351. First, makes sure it’s necessary.

351. First, makes sure it’s necessary.

There is nothing as inefficient as doing with great efficiency that which does not need to be done at all.”  Dr. Steven Covey

That quote reverberated through my head sometime last year as I was sitting through a meeting of the senior management of a local, Western Canadian company and listening to these folks discussing their need to commit vast resources to enhancing efficiencies in their organization in order to better absorb the harsh impact of this current recession.

What was of particular interest in listening to them was I had spent considerable time the previous week talking with staff members at all levels of the organization. The constant theme that seemed to echo from all corners of the company was criticism of the depths of bureaucracy and redundancies in many of the things these folks were required to do.

Few would question the benefits of enhanced efficiency. Doing things well, competently, fully, with minimal effort and maximum results is the ideal we strive for in every situation. But before we invest great demands of time in examining how best to become more efficient, I believe we first need to question whether these very things are even necessary to be done.

With ruthless efficiency a surgeon can remove a limb, but if it turns out the wrong limb has been removed then clearly the effectiveness of the operation will amount to zero.

I have long been a proponent of focusing first on what needs to be done in determining the effectiveness of doing these things, and it is only well after effectiveness has been determined that focus should then shift to better, faster and more cost effective ways of getting them done.

When asked my thoughts on this matter, I suggested they spend some time evaluating existing practices in search of either entire processes or steps within existing processes that could be eliminated without any material effect on the end result.

They agreed to pick three existing practices for close examination – one each from procurement, product delivery and accounts receivable – and began their search for effective practices within each.

They soon realized this was neither an easy, nor rapid task, but also realized it was one well worth undertaking.

Four months later I was invited to attend a meeting to review the results of their analysis and to say they were extremely pleased would be an understatement.

This experiment revealed a host of practices that contributed absolutely nothing to the intended result that were in place simply because “we have always done it this way.”

What was most startling was learning their staff members involved in these practices were spending an average of two hours each week doing things that contributed no effect to the intended result and that in many cases added to the inefficiency of these practices.

Now two hours a week may not seem like much but over the course of a year this translates into the equivalent of each staff member working more than two additional weeks each year at zero cost to the organization.

And when you consider the impact of such productivity gains across an entire organization, the results become astounding.

The lesson learned here is an important one: Before we concern ourselves with doing things right we need first ensure we are doing the right things.

Till we read again.

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