We’ve long recognized effectiveness as a prime driver of business success, particularly since Peter Drucker formulated the rules and required “habits of thought” in 1967’s The Effective Executive.

Despite its relative brevity, his book has had an enormous impact on business — proof positive that visionaries can present million-dollar ideas in small packages. According to Drucker, doing the right things is key to effectiveness. Drucker helped clarify the “why” of effectiveness in a way no one before him had. But the “how” he left for leaders to define on our own. 

The trouble with effectiveness

Effectiveness, on it’s own, sets no time limits. In the era when business could afford to be leisurely, largely due to limitations of distance and technology, projects could take many months. Something that should have taken four months could take fourteen. That won’t fly anymore.

Software manufacturer 3D Realms wasted 12 years working on the Duke Nukem Forever sequel before going belly-up. Similarly, many other companies have developed groundbreaking technologies in a leisurely way, only to have their competitors beat them to market.

Long-term strategies, even those of a year or less, have proven too rigid for survival. The business world moves too fast now, due to increased competition brought on by technological advances and global competition, as well as the flexibility and agility forced on most organizations by relatively recent economic shocks, such as the Great Recession. 

The trouble with efficiency

On the flip side, efficiency unrestrained by effectiveness can prove catastrophic. In 2013, a demolition crew in Fort Worth, Texas, did an excellent and very effective job of demolishing a house. The only misstep was that it was the wrong house. The code enforcer had put the wrong address on their forms and no one was home to rectify the mistake.

That may be the best example of efficiency unrestrained by effectiveness I’ve ever heard. In short, they did the wrong thing right. And the kicker? They did the exact same thing again the very next day. Apparently they learned to effectively check and recheck their work orders only after their second foul-up. 

The need for efficient effectiveness in leadership

We now have to make our effectiveness, well, more effective. The best way to do that is to combine it with efficiency, producing a hybrid I define in my new book Doing the Right Things Right. You must practice the adage of efficient effectiveness right now in order to maintain your place in the market.

Any less, and you begin the slide down the slippery slope of reduced profits. Better to come out of left field and surprise them all, as Apple did with the MacBook and iPod after Steve Jobs took his company back in the late 1990s. Apple remains a paragon of efficient effectiveness.

We’ve already lost many large companies to merger, outright purchase, complacency, management issues, out-competition, and a few spectacular suicides (see the Enron/Arthur Andersen debacle). 

The new business mantra

“Doing the right things right” must become a mantra for any remaining organizations that want to survive. Doing the right things isn’t enough anymore. Nor is just doing things right.

Efficiency mustn’t just meet effectiveness; the two have to join forces and work side by side daily — hitched together as an efficient, effective team. And leaders must ensure that they make doing the right things right not just a mantra, but a habit controlled by regular oversight.

The current change tsunami roaring through the business world will only continue to grow. Welding effectiveness and efficiency together is a crucial survival tactic and possibly the most crucial one any organization can wield going forward. 

Doing the right things isn’t enough anymore. Nor is just doing things right.”

Laura Stack | MBA, CSP, CPAE
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