I like to think I am efficient. It feels like a good thing to be; to aspire to. But is my idea of efficiency the same as yours? Probably not.
I may feel thwarted in my attempts at efficiency because people and events get in the way. Does this really matter if I am seen as a positive colleague who works hard and whose heart is in the right place? How central should I make efficiency to my assessment of my success, or to other people's? And is it always desirable to be efficient?
There is a preoccupation with efficiency at present: service commissioners deem it more efficient to deal with one provider rather than five; senior manage-ment sees outsourced backroom services or a restructured department as more efficient; service users want one point of access to obtain the things that meet their needs because it is more time and energy-efficient.
A manager's brief may be to ensure that both the workplace and its services exhibit efficiency - but what does it mean to manage in such a way that an organisation is efficient? Is it to become a slick machine? If so, what place is there for messiness and creativity, for mistakes and learning? What sort of culture supports an efficient but approachable organisation?
There is personal efficiency - using time well, investing in key relationships and organising your own workload competently. But for organisational efficiency there is a range of tools available.
A performance review can empower people to work at their optimum level. It is a way of setting goals, reviewing performance and making improvements. Working smarter, not harder, can make people more productive. This will help to motivate them.
Meaningful measures of performance, not just for individuals but for service areas or functions, can help efficiency too. It is important to ask the question "how well are we doing?" Otherwise you just do as well as you do.
The overall point to keep in mind when you are striving for efficiency is that you want to make an impact and deliver gains for your beneficiaries.
Review your systems; eliminate unnecessary paperwork and recording; let technology work with and not against you; capture the information that will help you make improvements; analyse ways of doing things and improve them. Habits do not efficiency make.
- Elaine Willis is a consultant, firstname.lastname@example.org