We see it all of the time and last week I read and heard it repeatedly, the terms “effective” and “efficient” used as if they were synonyms with the assumption that an efficient process is a de facto effective process. Yes, they sound pretty when used together and they roll off the tongue nicely. Go ahead and say it, “Our process improvement initiatives will help us to become more effective and efficient.” See. Now consider the definitions…

Effective – Successful in producing a desired or intended result.
Efficient – Achieving maximum productivity with minimum wasted effort.

I offer that by focusing our efforts on being both, we make incremental improvements at best and, more often than not, we allow our goal of being efficient to trump our need to be effective. We’ve all heard the old adage, “Anything worth doing is worth doing well.” That is to say, we should be doing everything with a purpose and that purpose is measured first and foremost by its effectiveness. Sometimes we achieve greater effectiveness by seeking efficiencies, but often times we find the two driving desires may start us down a singular path but they quickly diverge, leading us toward conflicting courses of action.

Learning from a book…

  • Effective Actions – Read it, take notes and talk about it
  • Efficient Actions – Audio Book, Book Abstract or Cliff Notes

Losing Weight…

  • Effective Actions – Working out and eating right over an extended period of time
  • Efficient Actions – Liposuction, fad diets, starvation

Getting to work on time…

  • Effective Actions – Get up well before work, eat healthy breakfast, drive the speed limit
  • Efficient Actions – Get up at the last minute possible and exceed the speed limit

In this fiscal environment, our military is being asked with greater frequency to find more efficient ways to do all that we currently do, and then some. As we focus more and more on creating efficiencies, our effectiveness is diminished. Those of us who are members of “The Information Dominance Corps” are able to point to ways we are continually becoming more efficient, as we partner with other communities with complementary core competencies. The challenge is finding specific contributions that demonstrate we are more effective.

If doing something in the name of being efficient negatively affects our ability to be effective, maybe we shouldn’t do that something. Maybe we should close that business line down altogether, divert resources to other somethings, and ensure we do those somethings in the most effective way possible. At the same time, there are many instances where we should migrate toward being even more inefficient in the name of being more effective. And there is no greater example where seeking inefficiencies should be the encouraged behavior than in the area of leadership.

  • Reporting seniors personally delivering mid-term counseling and eval/FITREP debriefs is not efficient, but it is effective…
  • Personally training/coaching/mentoring our future reliefs is not efficient, but it is effective…
  • Creating ways to personally connect with peers and subordinates is not efficient, but it is effective…
  • Parents personally educating their children in favor of public education is not efficient, but it is effective…

Let’s be effective using the most efficient means, but let’s be effective first and foremost, as we maintain or raise our standards. It’s OK to divest as we admit we no longer have the means to satisfy all of our desirements; It’s paramount that we appropriately invest in our true requirements; It’s OK to “waste time” for the good of the team.

  • What are the trade-offs between efficiency and effectiveness in your organization?
  • When might being inefficient help you be more effective?
  • In which areas are you able to achieve both?