Efficiency, Effectiveness, and Adaptability – The Very Human Side of These Business Processes

Blog - Effectiveness vs. Efficiency

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I will never forget when an elder statesman in an organization (both dear to me) was “let go”, so to speak, because of a need for more “bang for the buck”. The expression was so toxic then and still carries a deep pain. It speaks to the tension between efficiency and effectiveness, and the pressing need for adaptability as our world rapidly changes. At the same time, we have to remember, in almost all situations, it’s people in the mix of these business processes.

Efficiency is a good thing. However, it must be secondary to effectiveness. Effectiveness is primary always. How best to assure both is to build an organizational culture of adaptability.

Tom Coyne has defined effectiveness, efficiency, and adaptability brilliantly in a published 2-page pdf*. Here they are:

“Effectiveness measures the extent to which the results you have achieved match your goals.” Strategy leaders set those goals, and the goals determine who does the work, when, where, and how.

“Efficiency measures the amount of scarce resources used to obtain the results achieved.” His use of the term “scarce resources” is thought-provoking. When we focus on efficiency – getting the most benefit from the least resources – we can lose our objective. Resources are precious. Full-stop. Whether they are people, time, or finances. We must consider how we spend resources always, and especially when they are scarce.  However, if we miss the mark on our objective because we misspent our resources or allocated them unwisely, then we paid for efficiency with effectiveness. A poor transaction.

Gen. McChrystal, speaks to this, in his book Team of Teams (more about this book follows). He puts a captivating twist on it in his challenge: “If I told you that you weren’t going home until we win—what would you do differently?” We can’t focus primarily on efficiency when effectiveness is the outcome we desire. Adaptability is really what will get us to where we want to go.

Adaptability measures the change in Effectiveness and Efficiency for a given level of change in the agent or organization’s environment…One of our great failings as human beings is our reluctance to acknowledge the full implications of living in a world of complex adaptive systems. The causes of yesterday’s success are impossible to fully understand, and unlikely to be replicable to the same extent in the futureWe naturally try to succeed again in the future, using the approach that worked in the past, with frequently disappointing and occasionally fatal results.”

Coyne goes on to write about how to work these processes out toward business and employee/team success in a changing world.

Good stuff to know and implement.

Early on in my career, one of the mantras I heard repeatedly was this:

“The three most important things to learn in your work is flexibility…flexibility…flexibility.”

That later changed, in company vernacular, to “fluidity” x 3. The only problem was the temptation to decide for myself what was fluidity/flexibility and what was not. This is where silos and self-interest evolve when we’re not even aware, until we find ourselves not being successful (effective/efficient). In the very work we’ve immersed ourselves in for years…working hard, but not working as smart as we could have. [I know, that hurts – and it will take more than efficiency gurus to bring us out of such a predicament healthy.]

It is possible to turn the ship around…and it takes a whole crew.

Decentralized, empowered teams. Trust. Transparency and collaboration in decision-making. Broad information-sharing. Ownership in real time not just in philosophy. Bringing down silos and working together to nurture an organizational culture where we expect change and thrive in it.

What focus yields a win-win in our workplace? Both from the human side and the business side of performance and organizational culture. What can we do to enhance our business processes – whether we are in management or on the frontlines of our organization?

The following quotes should help to stir thinking. They are out of the book Team of Teams by retired U.S. Army General Stanley McChrystal, currently with The McChrystal Group.

“In complex environments, resilience often spells success, while even the most brilliantly engineered fixed solutions are often insufficient or counterproductive.”  – Gen. Stanley McChrystal, Team of Teams

“In place of maps, whiteboards began to appear in our headquarters. Soon they were everywhere. Standing around them, markers in hand, we thought out loud, diagramming what we knew, what we suspected, and what we did not know. We covered the bright white surfaces with multicolored words and drawings, erased, and then covered again. We did not draw static geographic features; we drew mutable relationships—the connections between things rather than the things themselves.” – Gen. McChrystal, Team of Teams

[Sidebar: I had the great pleasure of writing for such a team over the last 3 years. It was a privilege to see that level of creativity and collaboration, in a team of equals, birthing a workplace initiative in sync with a changing world. Amazing experience.]

“Specifically, we restructured our force from the ground up on principles of extremely transparent information sharing (what we call “shared consciousness”) and decentralized decision-making authority (“empowered execution”).” – Gen. McChrystal, Team of Teams

“In a resilience paradigm, managers accept the reality that they will inevitably confront unpredicted threats; rather than erecting strong, specialized defenses, they create systems that aim to roll with the punches, or even benefit from them. Resilient systems are those that can encounter unforeseen threats and, when necessary, put themselves back together again.”  – Gen. McChrystal, Team of Teams

View your leadership as being less about giving top-down orders and more about cultivating those who follow you, empowering them to make the right decisions. Many leaders are tempted to lead like a chess master, striving to control every move, when they should be leading like gardeners, creating and maintaining a viable ecosystem in which the organization operates.This is especially applicable to private sector leaders; the world is moving too quickly for those at the top to master every detail and make every decision. Empowering, cultivating, and ultimately serving those who follow you will unlock massive potential within your organization, allowing you to solve for problems in real time.” – Gen. McChrystal, Forbes.com

*Effectiveness, Efficiency, and Adaptability – The Three Keys to Performance Measurement

Effectiveness Before Efficiency

Efficiency vs. Effectiveness

The Power of Business Process Improvement: 10 Simple Steps to Increase Effectiveness, Efficiency, and Adaptability by Susan Page

GoodReads Team of Teams Quotes

Stanley McChrystal: What The Army Can Teach You About Leadership

Gen. Stanley McChrystal: Adapt to Win in the 21st Century

Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World by General Stanley McChrystal

Blog - Efficiency and Adaptability - General McChrystalPhoto Credit: Forbes.com

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