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Executive Styles – Effective or Efficient?

My own style of management mandates that I only hire people who are better than me at what I am hiring them for. Only weak executives/managers hire second rate candidates! They also tend to enjoy the mushroom style management, meaning to keep people in the dark and feed them S#!T. These execs fit perfectly into some of those large, inept enterprise bureaucracies that spend top-advertizing dollars to sell themselves as being perfectly efficient and effective at what they do. Only, that it is mostly no more than a marketing ploy.

Truly, what does being efficient and effective mean?

Efficient refers to doing something with the least amount of expendable energy/money! Correct? Well, to be honest a lazy person will be perfect in achieving that because he will think before wasting energy. Hmm, describes me pretty well. Give the same job to a non-lazy busybody and you get a lot of activity but the last thing you get is efficiency.

Efficient has a relative meaning. It has to mean ‘more efficient than other ways.’ Now what are the other ways? Who knows how efficient they are? I know a lot of efficiency experts (of the BPM kind mostly) who do nothing else than to come up with creative ways for business cases for relative efficiency improvements. Most of it is illusion and if true it is achieved by firing people. One persons idea of efficient – to take for example the car to save time – may be utterly inefficient for someone with an ecological perspective. Thus I would not see being efficient as a personal quality.

Being efficient without considering effectiveness is fairly inefficient and it is often difficult to combine the two from all perspectives. You might even see them as opposite sides of a coin. If you take the bicycle to the store rather than the car to save energy but you get there too late, you were not only ineffective but by all means also not efficient. So is being effective also therefore more efficient? No, because burning down the house would get rid of pest infestments, but so would the right dose of insectizide.

On the other hand, being effective requires that the goal has been clearly stated and is in some way measurable. Often the most effective thing is to reevaluate the goals, sometimes because of efficiency considerations. You have evaluate efficiency options to see if they are effective and possibly restate goals again. Is the goal to kill the insects or not to be pestered by them? Can I keep them out rather than kill. Can I get a deterrent (i.e. cat)?

The same line of thought applies to all questions of economy, ecology and business. Unfortunately, most people coming off universities have been brainwashed with a huge amount of ‘working procedures’ and ‘best practices’, ‘standard methodologies’ and ‘research results.’ They are certain to understand all the considerations around effectiveness and efficiency. They apply ‘template 4711’ because it has been effective in the past and try to squeeze everyone to doing it to the lowest possible cost. If it turns out to be effective (50% chance) and the price is lower than the first offer or how ‘template 4711’ has been applied in other situations, that person is a genius! Possibly it is absolute nonsense, but who would know how to measure it?

In that busybodies-applying-templates lies the problem of governments, global enterprises, and any other typical bureaucracy. Putting lazy people in charge who are free to reevaluate goals to their ultimate purpose is the most efficient and effective way of management.

How do we find the right kind of lazy people?

Obviously we all look for certain character traits for particular positions. Remember the 80/20 Pareto Rule. 20 percent of people will do 80% of the important or profitable work. The problem is that you can’t fire the other 80% percent because the rule would still apply. The important part is to make sure that those 20% are the right people – I see them as the process owners. The very top 2% are the most important as those are your leaders and it is their character traits that define what your business is like. The executive’s job is to select those leaders and make sure they understand what you stand for. You do not need to have a clue how to do it yourself (it does help however). My experience tells me that you can neither classify those people nor put them in quadrants or look for efficiency or effectiveness – they just need to feel right and you need to try them out if they have a positive resonance with you. You must be able to trust them and they must feel respected and valued.

This is why being a great executive is a personality trait and not something you can be taught … you can maybe learn it through the school of hard knocks. Don’t tell me you are efficienct or effective, but tell me about those hard knocks, the stuff that you messed up and learned from. Do that, and you would be ‘my (wo)man’.

PS: I hate that gender-political-correctness stuff …
PPS: I have many excellent female managers …
PPPS: They are better because they are emotional about what they do!
PPPPS: I think that CLAIMING to be efficient AND effective is most probably reducing your chances of employment. At least to me it means that this person is a yes-(wo)man busybody.


About Max J. Pucher

I am the founder and Chief Technology Officer of Papyrus Software, a medium size software company offering solutions in communications and process management around the globe. I am also the owner and CEO of MJP Racing, a motorsports company focused on Rallycross or RX, a form of circuit racing on mixed surfaces that has been around for 40 years. I hold 8 national and international championship titles in RX. My team participates in the World Championship along Petter Solberg, Sebastian Loeb and Ken Block.


5 thoughts on “Executive Styles – Effective or Efficient?

  1. The dichotomy you draw between efficiency and effectiveness is intructive, and your pragmatic concepts for measuring the same are useful. I never cease to be intrigued by your ideas.

    Posted by William J McKibbin | May 31, 2009, 1:35 pm
  2. Do you think a certain amount of time pressure can drive effectiveness over efficiency? One might have plenty of time in a schedule to design a grand process to increase efficiency, but with tighter schedules you are more concerned with effectiveness – getting things done on time. The longer the schedule the more bureaucracy that is created to fill the time.

    That being said a tight schedule may lead to shorter product cycles, but yield poor processes or no process and may harm product cycles in the future.

    Perhaps the key is to understand the short term and long term goals and factor both into the schedule.

    Posted by Keith House | June 5, 2009, 8:23 pm
  3. Keith, thanks. I would agree up to a point. Elapsed execution time should be one of the goals. Effectiveness is concerned with quality, while efficiency with cost. In principle they are opposed but you need both with effectiveness being the primary target.

    Posted by Max J. Pucher | June 5, 2009, 8:38 pm
  4. Before reading this blog I used to think that effectiveness comes before efficiency. I used always the example that first you have to become effective (driving into the right direction) before you can become efficient (saving fuel or time). Now I realize that the more measurable the goal is formulated, the more both sides of the coin forces you into choices, while the context you are in can lead to different outcomes.

    For example “I want to be in NY at 11 AM, pay no toll but also do not want to get a speed ticket”.

    Depending on the time I leave the house, the weather & traffic conditions, the possibility of police, the outcome of the coin flipping (putting more emphasis on effectiveness or efficiency) is determined. No process, template or instruction can truly help in this situation. I have to trust my own experience and gut feeling and listen to the radio for the latest updates to adapt 🙂

    Posted by Freddie | June 10, 2009, 6:28 am
    • Freddie, so it is. There is no process that can help you to balance effectifeness and efficiency, except if you consider the continuous evaluation of information and adapting the current process also a (meta?)process.

      Your comparison with driving is a great one. I have used it a number of times too. The most important enhancements in automobile technology have been related to adaptibility: engine ignition and fuel injection computer; motoric control computer for seats, roofs, windows, lights; navigation system with real-time traffic info.

      For business process management we can learn a lot from these systems: 1) they usually do not overrule the user, 2) they are intuitively usable without training, 3) they use real-time measurement of goal values (time to target) in relationsship to traffic and or fuel consumption. This is what we have to take as a target in IT. The whole sheebang of BPM and BI with predictive modeling is absolute nonsense! Just imagine you would need 5 people to model your route, then create a complex data collection and statistical processing from another 10 BI experts and then if the traffic changes to have to stop, go back to the beginning and start all over again with route planning. That is the current state of IT!

      Posted by Max J. Pucher | June 10, 2009, 8:15 am

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Max J. Pucher


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