Efficiency falls short in of search of effective work

This column was originally published as part of my “Looking Homeward” series at Herald-Dispatch.com.

“Do you know the difference between efficiency and effectiveness?” asked the company executive. I thought it was one of his usual jokes.

“No,” I said, giving him full latitude to deliver the punch line. “Tell me—what is the difference between efficiency and effectiveness?”

“Efficiency is doing things right. Effectiveness is doing right things right.” And he was serious. No joke this time.

“And what this world needs, especially this company, is effective people,” he said shaking his head solemnly.

There are many efficient persons in the world. They are proficient in their efforts, skilled in their crafts, and meticulous in their endeavors. But they never actually get the job done.

Yet, there are other people who seem to apply less energy, create little over-activity but they get the job done and it’s done with class!

The difference may lie at the point of not merely doing things right—they both do that—but of doing right things right. The effective person knows how to select, how to go to the central matter of every issue and has learned to tell the difference between what is minor and what is major.

The efficient person does all things right, giving equal time and energy to everything coming down the pike, never having learned the fine art of elimination—an art based on the principle that life is determined by what you leave out as well as what you put in.

Efficiency drives down the highway skillfully. Effectiveness drives down the right highway skillfully but also knows that the destination is more important than the highway. Detours are accepted as part of the journey. A purposeful adventure begins where an alert awareness transcends the efficient map-reader mentality.

Efficiency types the letter perfectly. Effectiveness can type the letter perfectly but thinks through the situation and determines a phone call is better approach.

Efficiency is concerned with the way things look. Effectiveness is more concerned with what things are and where they are going—underneath the way things look.

Efficiency creates lists to monitor progress and success. Effectiveness uses goals to determine whether they are on target in their activities.

Efficiency spends more time on the means, often losing sight of the ends while effectiveness feels the ends must justify the means and the means must be as valid as the ends.

Efficiency is method-driven. Effectiveness is mission-driven.

Efficiency can lead to fanaticism, which American philosopher George Santayana describes as “redoubling your efforts when you have forgotten your aim.”

Effectiveness keeps the target in mind throughout the process, developing a mature work ethic that assumes responsibility for both process and result.

Efficiency might be described as perfectionism, a malady that plagues many of us, motivating us to give all things equal weight, creating an overload that no one can carry long.

However, effectiveness can relieve the perfectionists’ plight by refocusing the aim and recalling, “We don’t have to do all things right; just the right things right.”