Be Efficiently Inefficient

Yesterday I talked about efficiency as a trap.  Some find coping with that to be difficult.    After all we are taught from childhood to do things the right way.  To do them well and quickly. To learn from mistakes. To be better.

Wrong message.

The world is changing very quickly.  Old values are becoming less relevant.  New values are evolving.  Being very good at an obsolete skill is not efficient.  Being good at a new skill is inefficient for a while.

Change is necessary and inefficient, but as Peter Drucker has said,  “There is nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency something that should not be done at all.

Some things are clearly necessary and reasonably stable.  They should be efficient.

  1. Maintaining the database.  You might want to discover the things that are there that need not be there and the things that are not there but could be useful in future.  Basic housekeeping with an eye to the future.
  2. Maintaining paper files if you must have them.  File systems should be purposeful.  A lot of what people keep is just “stuff.”  The things you might need for an improbable lawsuit are most common.  Get that out of the mainstream filing system.  Have a tiny group of functional files.  Permanent information like date of birth, address, family, telephone numbers and such.  Correspondence for the past year or two.  Maybe since last review.  Product file.  One page summary of each item.  Planning file.  Upcoming review file.  Things I want to talk about.  Things the client has sent to me.    A group of small files is easier to maintain than two foot thick omnibus files.  Omnibus files are supremely inefficient.
  3. Network maintenance.
  4. Janitorial services.
  5. Continuing education
  6. Employee environment
  7. Customer care

Efficiency should be the minimum standard and not the goal.

The goal of any business is to meet the customers needs and to find new customers.  Customers could not care less about your efficiency as long as their needs are met.  Efficiency allows you to be profitable though.  Customers care about what you do not so much about how you do it.

There are two extremes.  Businesses are either efficient to the point of being uncreative and unresponsive to change, or they are inefficient to the point of chaos.  Most are between the extremes or they move around in the spectrum.  Trying new things continually and without clear purpose is a form of chaos.

Business works best if it works from the customer side back to its activities.  Systemize the things that are common.  Checklists and To-Do lists are a common form of this.  Be creative and careful about what adds to the offering.  Sometimes delete some services and even some customers.

There is a balance and it is not easy to achieve.  It is impossible if you don’t look for it.


Don Shaughnessy is a retired partner in an international public accounting firm and is now with The Protectors Group, a large personal insurance, employee benefits and investment agency in Peterborough Ontario.

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