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Efficiency Is Good, but Effectiveness Is Better

September 16, 1997|GARY IZUMO | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Gary Izumo is a professor in the Moorpark College business department and has managed his own consulting practice. He is a former McKinsey & Co. consultant and practice leader for the strategic management consulting practice of Price Waterhouse

Increasing workloads. The push to do more with less. The challenge of balancing a successful career with a meaningful family life.

These are common pressures many of us feel. So what do we do? We try to be more efficient, to do more with the time and resources that we have.

Reminder notes clutter our lives. To-do lists are created, augmented and revised. We turn to time-management systems and electronic calendars.

Yet despite working harder and doing more, we aren't making the progress we expect. Our accomplishments don't have the meaning they should.

Why? Efficiency is only part of the picture. Effectiveness is the name of the game.

Efficiency focuses on making the most with available resources, or, viewed another way, minimizing the use of resources to accomplish a task.

Effectiveness, on the other hand, is effort consciously linked to the achievement of an important goal. Critical to effectiveness is selecting the right goal and keeping it in mind.

Suppose you spend time and money to tune up your car to make it run more efficiently. Yet tuning up your car and having an efficiently running engine doesn't help much if the steering wheel doesn't turn the wheels so you can direct your car to where you want to go.

And you are even worse off if your car is pointed in the wrong direction and you drive your car in this condition. Your car might be running powerfully, smoothly and in a fuel-efficient manner--but away from where you want to be.

The key to balancing efficiency and effectiveness is understanding your goals.

Let's say that you are developing a product. If your designers and engineers do not fully understand the goals for the product, including target unit costs, they may efficiently design a beautiful and well-engineered product that cannot be competitively sold because costs are too high.

Sometimes we confuse our priorities. Have you ever been rushed for time but decided to do something anyway and ended up with a big mess?

For example, your to-do list says to meet with Sam, one of your employees, to discuss his performance on a project.

Sam is a good employee and you like him. You get to work early because you have to leave at noon for a series of important customer meetings. You are having a hard time getting your to-dos done because of a number of surprises. As a result, you are running late and have only 10 minutes to talk to Sam about his performance. That is a fraction of the time you had planned, but you decide to talk to him anyway.

You focus on the key performance issues and efficiently communicate these. You feel like the meeting with Sam went well and you feel good that you got it done before you left.

But when you pick up your e-mail that evening at your hotel, you learn that Sam was very upset after your meeting. He did not feel that you wanted to hear his side of the story and work together to resolve the problem. He felt betrayed.

Sam quit.

Was the goal to meet with Sam and take care of a to-do item? Or was there a more important goal, such as helping Sam develop and work through a glitch in a project?

As we can see, we might have been efficient in our communication and taking care of our to-do, but we were not very effective. We confused the priority of our goals. Instead of helping a situation, we created a much more disturbing problem.

Efficiency is important, but effectiveness is critical. In these times of fierce global competition and cost containment, it is easy to focus on our increasing workloads and the pressures for more productivity without the necessary connection to meaningful goals.

Let's make our work count. Working smarter means effectiveness, not just efficiency. Not only should we seek those methods that make the most of our scarce time and budgets, we also need to make sure our efforts are aligned to make progress toward goals.

Take time to assess your to-dos. Evaluate your activities in the context of deeper goals. Work smarter, not just harder.

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