Sacrificing effectiveness in the name of efficiency

In all downturns companies look for ways to become more efficient. Truth be told, they should always look for ways to become more efficient by removing waste from the process. However, just because you can spend less money doing it, does not mean you should.

I was traveling recently with a poor mid-level exec from a major Silicon Valley software company. We were going from Houston to SFO. Trouble was he had just come off a flight from Paris, which had been delayed so he had missed his original connection to SFO. He was in the center seat for the 4 hour flight from Houston to SFO. While both of us did not like that, he liked it even less than I did. He spent the flight with his head on his tray table, clearly exhausted.

I asked him if he knew there were non-stop flights from Paris to SFO. He said he did but his corporate travel department had been able to save $200 by routing him through Houston. Their metric: saving travel dollars. Demolishing an employee: not recorded. Though this company claims to value their employees, their actions prove otherwise.

This situation and others which make air travel undesirable, and more costly, has led to a rise in the use of so-called telepresence meetings by larger companies. The leading suppliers of such systems, Cisco and Polycom to name two, are seeing record growth in these systems, which they tout as being virtually the same as being there. Not so fast.

An article in the February 28, 2011 issue of Forbes cites some interesting evidence that users or potential users of these systems should consider. John Medina from the University of Washington makes the clear statement that significant communication information is missed in a telepresence system. This was supported by other research from David Pizarro of Cornell.

This does not imply that telepresence systems don’t have their place, just that you have to understand their appropriate use. Unfortunately it is easy to understand the efficiency gained, not so much the loss of effectiveness … until you notice your sales close rate is dropping and all of your other excuses are not cutting it anymore. Way too late.

Lessons:

  1. Make sure you have ways to measure the outcomes of your activities, especially new ones
  2. Make sure you have intermediate measurements so you don’t have to wait for the process to complete before you know how you are doing
  3. Remember that increasing efficiency may not be helpful if it harms effectiveness. Doing the wrong things well, doesn’t help

Mitch

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