I keep coming back to efficiency and effectiveness. In this last month I have given several talks around Europe about how we deal with complexity, specialization and time pressure and I have also trained consultants and financial analysts in several consulting firms and one Norwegian federal agency. I have also met with several heads of companies to talk about how to improve presence in their management meetings.
It is becoming increasingly clear to me that a lot of the techniques we apply to improve the output of workers are not working because they are made for another era. People are no longer working in the industrial mass production environments for which many of the management techniques were developed. It would be meaningless to ask Rembrandt to hurry up or use less paint when creating one of his masterpieces. Many of the employers I encounter insist on using templates when asking highly trained individuals to do jobs where each case is unique. What is increasingly clear is that when every case is different and complex, when every case requires professional judgement and interpretation of insufficient and conflicting data, efficiency and 100% precision is no longer at the top of your list. We constantly try to improve people´s efficiency when what we should really care more about is their effectiveness — i.e. the effect they seek. Do they understand the situation, the context, the goal? Who cares if you are a good runner if you are running in the wrong direction or if you fail to change direction or take cues from the rest of the team?
The quest for efficiency is especially troubing in in larger organizations. There seem to be this need to be in control when what they should worry about is being in command. The more unpredictable and turbulent the situation the less control you will have unless you are in the situation. Being anywhere else will prevent you from having the timely information needed to observe, orient and decide what to do.
In situations we can´t control — i.e. turbulent, fast moving, complex situations, the key to influence is to understand the context. This requires our full attention. The faster and less predictable the context is, the more we need to pay attention in order to ensure that our response is relevant.