The Golden Question

When I get calls from executives who have yet to enter the world of asking a consultative facilitator to help them through an Annual Planning process, I know it’s a call from someone who’s ready for forward movement. (I don’t like to make cold calls. For what I do, leaders need to be ready for it. Otherwise, it’s like force-feeding a toddler–which isn’t pretty.) As we begin the journey toward identifying key Winning Moves and strategies for long-term sustainability, I discover a lot of things about the company.

In the beginning part of this process, one thing I’ve learned in my 20+ years of doing what I do is that most companies are asking really good questions around efficiency. As we know, operational efficiencies play a key role in the quality of what we produce and/or sell, in the quality of our internal systems and processes, etc. But the one question that most companies aren’t asking themselves is actually the higher-level question: How effective are we?

Most of us are familiar with the Baldrige Quality Award. Indeed, “Quality” is imperative. In fact, it’s a table-stake in today’s business world. If you don’t have it, you’d better find it! But the emphasis on “Quality” has forced our thinking toward efficiency at the expense of the higher-level question: How effective are we?

I once interviewed an executive team in the healthcare industry who worked at a hospital who had won numerous Quality Awards. In the course of our conversation, though, I discovered that most people simply did not like working there–at all! Internally, they were a mess. To get the Quality Awards, a checklist was created (on things that had to be done to qualify for winning the various awards,) which their upper leaders had dutifully followed. So…in one regard we might say they had created a ton of internal systems and processes that made them highly efficient. However, in the end they weren’t the least bit effective (except at winning Quality Awards.)

Food for thought: You can be the most efficient organization on the planet, but the better question is: How effective are you? Asking this question can lead to organizational improvements you’ll never even think of by only asking how ‘efficient’ you are. Efficiency does not equal effectiveness.

So at your next executive meeting, ask: How efficient are we? It’s an important question. But once your discussion around efficiency quiets down (and people think the conversation is over), pause a few seconds, applaud the efficiencies noted in the prior discussion, and then ask: So…How effective are we?

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