When we hear this word, a lot of things come to mind. First and foremost, when I hear the word efficiency, I immediately think about how to do things in the most proficient manner. In other words, how do I ensure that I am making the best use of my time and resources? There are so many competing priorities in our professional and personal lives that most of us cannot afford to “waste time.” We are called to juggle meetings, deadlines, chauffeuring the kids to practice, doctor appointments, and balancing household responsibilities.
Our lives today demand efficiency, and the need for improved time-saving methods is evident in the technologies we see emerging. If you think back over time inventions are mostly derived from a better way to do things. Vacuum cleaners evolved from the need to clean more efficiently, the car from the need to travel faster than the horse and buggy could allow, and Twitter and Snapchat from the need to communicate to large populations instantaneously.
It is no wonder that when we as humans are thrust into inefficient situations, the hair on the back of our neck stands up. Think about this — the last time you rushed into a store to grab a few items, only to arrive at the checkout counters to find long lines, how did you feel? One way department stores have tried to make this more efficient is by adding self-checkout stations.
Talk about inefficient. This may save time when the process runs smooth. However, when there is a technology glitch, this process has now frustrated the consumer and is terribly inefficient. This type of experience will leave you with a bias about using self-check stations.
As humans, we are just not wired to be okay with inefficiencies. Be it in our personal lives or at work, we look for ways to make things better. What can be frustrating is when the paths to improvement seem unclear or blocked. I have worked for several organizations that had IDEA boards. One of those organizations even went as far as to require each associate to submit one idea — in this case, that would mean well over 8,000 ideas if everyone participated.
While this looked good on paper, the good intention fell apart when there was no clear path to how those ideas would be vetted and implemented. The quest for efficiency turned into an inefficient process and resulted in a bias among folks in the organization. As leaders, we have to be very cognizant when these barriers to efficiency exist. When we see obstacles we have to first, admit them, and second, look to resolve them. The idea is not to let perfection be the enemy of good, as Steven Covey states, but to acknowledge and course correct as quickly as possible.
If we are passionate and committed to our work, we will always be bothered by inefficiency. We will continue to offer up solutions to improve processes. We will be able to gauge our commitment by our actions. It will be evident to us as leaders that when we stop pushing for improvement and become exhausted by the obstacles, we are no longer effective. Exhaustion and operating in known inefficiencies are never acceptable characteristics as leaders. In our personal lives we have to be just as diligent about our time, we get one shot at this life. The organizations we run, our staff, and our families count on us.
Here are a few suggestions that might help you in the arena of efficiency:
- If you are not empowered to make the change, figure out what part of the change you are empowered to make, and make it.
- Don’t assume someone else will own it — if it needs to be solved, take the bull by the horns.
- Don’t die on every hill — choose your battles wisely. This is also a sign of being efficient.
- Keep in mind that if you think the process is inefficient, chances are you are not alone. Find an ally and work together to offer up a better solution
Lastly, do not take reactions to your suggestion personally, leave your ego out of it, and guard your time — no one else will.