Don't trade the effective for the efficient

Why do we strive for efficiency at the expense of effective work?

Is it always the best policy to chase efficiency above being effective in our work? Sometimes we are guilty of trading away effective working practices in favour of efficiencies and this leads to problems providing our products and services to the best of our ability and can be short-sighted. The reason it can be short-sighted is that it can be less efficient in the long-term, even though we see short-terms gains.

Why is effectiveness more important than efficiency?

As a teenager at school I was in a band with some friends. This being the late 80s or early 90s we measured ourselves up against some of the biggest bands of the day. So when it came to naming ourselves, naturally our witty wordsmith, Michael came up with the idea to name the band The Prevention so we could proclaim we were better than The Cure (of course we weren’t and we never gigged and only rehearsed a handful of times).

What has this to do with effectiveness and efficiency? Well, it is more effective to treat the cause of a problem than cure the symptoms. Let’s take a look at some stories of where effectiveness has triumphed over efficiency.

How did effective private healthcare save the Netherland’s government money?

Jos De Blok was a nurse employed within the social healthcare system in the Netherlands. But he identified a problem, a problem that a lot of other nurses were worried about too. The mechanisation of healthcare in the community meant that nurses got a lot less time with their patients as time and motion studies were used to timetable their care schedule. This meant they had less time per patient and so were unable to support patients in the way that would have been effective.

This lead Jos to start a not for profit named Buurtzorg. In a study by Ernst & Young Buurtzorg were found  to use less than 40% of the hours prescribed by a doctor to support patients. This was because they supported patients in becoming more autonomous enabling them to be proactive about their care. This also lead to 30 percent of all emergency hospital intakes being avoided. This organisation saves the Dutch Social Security system hundreds of millions a year.

Now that is effectiveness beating efficiency. The time and motion studies prioritised efficiencies, and Buurtzorg prioritised effectiveness. You can read a much better account of this in Frederic Laloux’ book Reinventing Organisations, which I highly recommend.

Getting upstream of the problem

What really happened here was Buurtzorg got upstream of the problem and found a solution that offered a prevention rather than a cure of the symptoms.

It is difficult to make the business case for effectiveness over efficiency, as it is difficult to measure the outcomes. It is much easier to measure for efficiency, as there is usually monetary savings to be made. This is how we get stuck in a cycle of being responsive rather than proactive. We can however, explore solutions to problems using the tools, structures and games we use for problem solving.

Get in touch with us and we can co-create new strategies that can help your organisation and teams be ready for whatever comes around the corner. Let’s play!

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