Our culture, especially our business culture, seems to have an obsession with efficiency. It’s not that efficiency isn’t a good idea, but it isn’t always the silver bullet it is believed to be. A focus on efficiency certainly makes sense as an objective if you are creating a machine or a process.
Yet when it comes to human systems a focus on efficiency can actually distract you from your real goal.
Contrary to popular belief, efficiency does not always equal effectiveness. And unfortunately the cost of an over-reliance and focus on efficiency can actually rob you of being effective.
For example, you can run an efficient meeting from the standpoint of starting and ending on time, as well as covering all the topics on the agenda as planned. Yet if the goal of the meeting was to make and align on a decision together and the conversations and presentations on the agenda didn’t result in a decision everyone could get behind did your efficiency really matter?
The outcome of human interaction cannot be measured by efficiently following a series of steps.
A checking the box approach to conversation rarely leads to satisfying interaction, engagement and producing results that really matter.
Working with people is inherently messy and messiness can make you uncomfortable. It is natural to feel uneasy when you can’t clearly see how you will ever get to the level of clarity and alignment needed to move forward powerfully. You can feel like you are wasting time and not getting enough done or moving fast enough.
Except that your discomfort with staying in what feels like chaotic conversations long enough to allow clarity to emerge can cost you the very thing you are after – getting the most accomplished with the least amount of energy.
At the end of a recent multi-day meeting participants were asking: “how is it possible we could accomplish more in 4 days than we could in 18 months”?
The answer is the secret to being effective…
Create a clear, compelling and meaningful outcome first, and then focus on doing whatever takes to deliver on that outcome.
This requires that you…
- Stay focused on the outcome and flexible with the means.
- Are flexible enough to deviate from or change the plan (or agenda) when the plan isn’t producing the outcome as you expected.
- Go for meaningful and sufficient progress in everything you do rather than aiming for perfection.
Whether it is a meeting or a project or even a business you must first get crystal clear about what you want to accomplish and why BEFORE you even begin to discuss how. It can take discipline to stay in the “what” conversation long enough to get clear and create the level of shared understanding required for a group of people to work both efficiently AND effectively together.
There is an incredible pull, like an itch that must be scratched, to want to get immediately into action. Action is of course essential to accomplishing anything. However, you can waste a lot of time and energy doing a lot and accomplishing little. It may feel like you are making progress while you are in action, but that can often be an illusion. It is what you see when you stop and look at your progress and results that is the real measure of how effective you have been.
There will likely continue to be a constant tension between the desire for efficiency and the need to be effective. If you can learn to recognize that tension as an opportunity to make sure you and those you are working with are focused on the same outcome, you can actually accomplish both. Of course it is a good idea to be as efficient as you can, but make sure your drive for efficiency is in service of your goal, rather than at the expense of it.
Talk can be cheap, but meaningful, effective, outcome focused conversation is priceless when it comes to choosing the actions that will actually get you where you want to go.