Friday, February 10, 2012

Effective vs. Efficient

So, I've read a few articles recently about the difference between being effective and being efficient as of late.  And I have to say I’m not sure I entirely agree with them.

The gist of it is that “effectiveness is when you are doing the task correctly.”  This makes sense and there are no problems here for me.  I agree that you can be effective and not be the sharpest knife in the kitchen – so to speak. (which also happens to be an excellent example.  Kudos to me!)  In other words, you don’t have to do your job well to do it correctly.

However, the problem that I’m having is with the definition of efficient.  Thanks to the following definition is available to us:

performing or functioning in the best possiblemanner with the least waste of time andeffort; having and using requisiteknowledge, skill, and industry; competent;capable: a reliable, efficient secretary.
satisfactory and economical to use: Our newair conditioner is more efficient than our old one.
 (there are more definitions but these are the two I want to look at for the time being.)

So, let’s look at definition # 2.  This is what I’m hearing a LOT on these articles.  The performance is satisfactory and economical.  But not necessarily as “effective” as a non-efficient “air conditioner.”  And this is where I begin to diverge from those who agree with this statement as being a reflection of efficiency.

The first definition – by far – is the one I agree with.  And even efficient air conditioners should be held to that standard.  Just because a step is skipped doesn’t mean that the outcome should be less effective because of my (faulty) efficiency.  If that is truly the case, then efficiency is just the opposite of its own definition (according to definition #1). 

Example:  I write contracts as part of my job.  It used to be that I wrote them by hand.  I would have to fill out every section of every block for every contract (about 200 per year).  This was effective, to an extent.  Sometimes though, I messed up what goes into those little boxes.  And to the extent that our technology was, it was as efficient as I could be at the time. 

Then, I started using contracts that I had already filled out portions of those boxes for the stuff that wouldn’t change.  I would then take them to the copy machine, make about a hundred copies, and then write the contracts from the copies.  I would still occasionally write an incorrect date; so this too was only partially effective.  It was also more efficient (time-wise) since I didn’t waste extra time filling in all those blocks.  However, I had added a step to the process, not taken one out.

Now, fast forward 12 years from the first time I wrote a contract.  I now use a pre-filled computer template which I can type the information into. (that took me awhile to create!)  I then compile the contracts using Adobe Acrobat, and send them electronically to the person who needs to key them into the system.  If I make a mistake on a date, the turn-around is super-fast.  But I do still make mistakes.  Effectiveness = same, Efficiency = more.

In these scenarios, I was just as effective in all 3 (I do still make mistakes).  However, since streamlining the process I have become more efficient at the task.  (If I could streamline the process more so that I didn’t make mistakes at all, I would jump for joy and get to work on that new process.) 

But, let’s say that one of the changes I had made had caused me to re-write all of my contracts because of error, I would not label that as efficiency.  For anyone to say that I could be less effective, but more efficient is a waste of everyone’s breath. 
Another example of this would be to say that a payroll officer should be efficient, even if they’re less effective.  Uh, if a payroll officer left off the step deducting the federal taxes from my paycheck, “efficient” is not the word I would use to describe them.  In fact, a few choice words would come to mind when it came time to pay those taxes back.

So, I can’t say that I agree with some of the articles out there claiming that efficient does not always equal effective.  I beg to differ.  Perhaps a few decades ago, that might have been true.  But should it have been?  One last example of this:  Just because I go through a drive through, I still want pickles, ketchup, onions, lettuce, and tomato on my burger.  But there are also things I don’t want on it.  Skip those steps (no mayo please).  If you don’t listen to my request and are on “efficiency autopilot” and I have to go through the drive through again to get my order corrected, were you truly efficient?   No.  And you just cost the company $ on that burger that just went in the trash.

Is it just me?  Does anyone else see the difference between the two terms as I do?

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