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Focusing on efficiency is a waste of effort, if you don’t take care of this first

Maximum results are achieved when you are both effective and efficient!

When clients engage me, it’s usually to help them drive operational efficiency improvements. More often than not they have been working on these for some time, but haven’t seen the gains they were looking for, or have received little to no return on their investments.

As an expert in operational performance improvements, I am a huge fan of improving efficiency. But not as a first step, and this is the mistake that many companies and entrepreneurs make.

Yes, efficiency is important, but you need to make sure that you are being effective first. That you are focused on the right things, that your current efforts are having a positive effect, and they are helping you to make progress towards your goals.

When companies struggle to make progress in efficiency, nine times out of ten, this is the reason for that failing.

You are trying to improve an ineffective process or approach. You’re like a hamster on a wheel, it doesn’t matter how fast, how hard or how long you run you’re not going to make real progress. You’re just going to end up frustrated, demotivated and worn out.

You will only achieve significant results when you are both effective and efficient!

There are two steps to improving effectiveness:

  • The first is to sharpen the focus. Make sure that the goals and objectives are clear, they have been communicated and are understood by everyone. The clearer and less ambiguous the goals the easier it will be to put plans in place to achieve them.  These plans need to be reviewed, audited even to ensure they will deliver the required results.
  • The second is to boost accountability and ownership of the outcomes. This is achieved by having clear roles and responsibilities, and ensuring that everyone has the tools, skill, and support needed to carry them out. When you have clear roles and responsibilities and a team that has what it needs to succeed, they will grasp the opportunity with both hands.People are not afraid of hard work, they are afraid of failure, and if you set them up to succeed with clear plans, they will not only work hard but take ownership and increase effectiveness.

Now your teams are being effective. You have everyone, not only pulling in the same direction but the right direction, converting their efforts into results, which will boost morale and encourage them to keep working.

It’s only when you have achieved this state that you should look to improve efficiency.

Research shows that on projects that failed, seventy percent of the time, the teams knew they were going to fail from day one. So if you are not sure if you’re team are set up for success, or confident of achieving it, then simply ask them.

It’s your accountability as a leader to ensure your teams are set up for success.

If you fail to do that before you start looking for efficiency gains, then you will end up optimizing an ineffective process, approach or business model, which is just a waste of time, resources, and effort. It’s like optimizing your car engine while your car is stuck in the mud, you don’t need the wheels to turn faster or with a better fuel economy.

It will eventually lead to frustration and failure.

You need to focus on getting traction, converting the existing efforts into forward progress.

Real success and improvements come when you are both effective and efficient, but it all starts with improving and ensuring you are effective first.

Gordon Tredgold

Gordon Tredgold is a leadership transformation expert ranked #25 in Global Gurus Top 30 leadership gurus for 2019. Over his 25-year career Gordon has led teams of 1000+ staff in Fortune 100 companies, delivered operational cost savings of $350m and transformed delivery (from <35% to 95 %) and service levels (from 57% to 99.7%). A critically-acclaimed author, Gordon's latest book, FAST: 4 Principles Every Business Needs to Drive Success and Achieve Results, was a finalist for Management Book of the year 2017. He is a regular contributor for Inc. Magazine, Entrepreneur, Forbes, Fortune and Business Insider and an international keynote speaker, recognised by Inc. Magazine as a top 100 leadership expert and speaker. Gordon works with organisations to transform culture, drive results-based leadership and rapidly accelerate organisational growth and performance.