A different view on efficiency

A model which helps move things forward.

Coming from two totally different directions in my academic background, I have developed a specific approach to complexity and efficiency both in my private and business life.
We may want to be rational – but we seldom are. The human element is very complex and there are many conscious and unconscious forces leading to action.

Efficiency Management, as elucidated by this blog post, is related to the psychodynamic environment, i.e. to spaces where the human element influences the outcome of results. It is about the efficiency of human action. I am not talking about effectiveness – doing the right thing. I am talking about doing The Doing right. This is efficiency.

Emergence of inefficiency

The following visualisation is a simplified model, which I use in my work to explain the interdependency between efficient and inefficient action. The one cannot exist without the other. What is efficient for one purpose is inefficient for another.

efficiency, inefficiency, primary task, complexity

I am using this model as a starting point for all my interventions in the business environment, in situations of crisis, low-performing organisations or in coaching. The model is applicable on teams as well as on individual level and is therefore also applicable in private life.

The starting point is a Primary Task. This could be the mission of your project or of your organisation or the development of a strategy for your business or for your private purposes.

Behind the Primary Task is a very complex Gestalt which job is to accomplish the mission. This Gestalt is a mix of all the known and unknown stakeholders, internal and external, including their personalities, their history, the history of the company, the cultural aspects and also the unspoken and hidden interest of different stakeholders.

Although the Gestalt delivers against the Primary Task, i.e. On-Task, it also generates a lot of contra-productive, Off-Task work. In the end, the Gestalt is very busy, but things do not move really forward.

The human element

The reason for the Off-Task work lies mainly with the human element and has its sources in distorted thinking due to cognitive biases and psychological defense mechanisms when people deal with new situations. Overconfidence, overgeneralization, splitting, denial, blaming, being right, just to name few of them.

Most importantly, according to the Primary Task, the Gestalt is expected to do something, but in reality it does a lot of other things too, which are not part of the plan and which contribute to inefficiency. Firstly, the resources are doing what they are not expected to do, which can cause damage and secondly the resources involved in Off-Task work are simply not there for the precious On-Task work.

How to increase the total efficiency of the system – of the Gestalt?

The question is intellectually complicated but also clarifying: stop doing Off-Task work.

Traditionally, we tend to focus on On-Task activities and try to improve the strategies and the plans. This is human and understandable because it is easier for us to plan something than to execute it. A new plan or a strategy generates the illusion that we might be able to execute better than before. This is, by the way, evidence of very prominent cognitive biases like the illusion of understanding, the illusion of validity and the illusion of pundits.

The thing is that we plan resources – but we get humans – and they do what they want to do. The same is with us and our own plans.

Striving for efficiency is a question of attitude. Efficiency is a choice. It is a conscious act of will and a decision to get rid of what is Off-Task.

Take time to reflect on how often you are Off-Task with your own life.
Think about how you waste your time instead of pursuing your Primary Task.
Think about how you can unleash the potential of your organisation simply by addressing the sources of Off-Task activities and by removing inefficiency.