“I can resist everything except temptation” is a quote from Oscar Wild’s Victorian-era comedy of manners titled Lady Windermere’s Fan: A Play about a Good Woman.
Who can resist temptation when finding oneself in the tool section of a home improvement center? Every tool, from the simplest scribing tool to advanced digital or laser guided power tools, conjures up stories about what we could do IF we had that tool, or what we could have done had we had it way back when we really needed it. The lure of every tool is the promise of efficiency; the amount of time it saves, and how it will ease the work load.
No matter the spirit’s willingness to resist, the flesh is weak. And that’s how the garage gets filled with toys-for-the-boys; tools in wait of a project. Once in a while we justify our purchasing decisions by lifting the tools from their boxes, plugging the cord in a wall socket, and giving the tool a whirl while performing an imaginary task. Oh yeah . . . that feels good. When we put the tool back in its box we relish in its specs and features, and wonder about the necessary accessories we should buy next. Yup, been there, done that; have their bonus T-shirts, caps and mugs!
Why Would Business Be Any Different?
Believe you me, the world of business is no different. Wherever we satisfy our curiosity for the latest and greatest must-have cool tools—be that on-line, in-store, journal, seminar, coaching session, or conference—solutions abound everywhere. And, they all promise to contribute to or raise bottom-line results. Why? Because that clinches the deal—that justifies their purchase, oh sorry, I should say that rationalizes “investing” in them.
Generic, off the shelf solutions, ranging from hardware, software, training, coaching, and consulting on topics such as leadership, strategy, branding, agility, onboarding or sales, should prompt any decision maker to ask . . . What’s the PROBLEM I need to solve??? If these solutions are the answer, then what’s the QUESTION??? We need to choose the tool most appropriate for solving the problem—not acquiring the coolest tool of the day and searching for something to do with it.
Efficiency or Effectiveness; that’s The Question
Moreover, many solution providers start their sales pitch with the assumption that you are already successful and just want to become even more successful. But, what about challenges with the war for talent, creativity, innovation, growing bottom line results, and brand loyalty to name but a few systemic problems? In other words, challenges in all those areas where you’re not that successful yet; challenges posed by pesky problems that persist or keep coming back? What about them?
What if you don’t have an EFFICIENCY problem but an EFFECTIVENESS problem? I mean, would you rather be doing the right thing but somewhat wasteful, or be highly efficient while failing to meet customer expectations? An effectiveness problem results from doing the WRONG thing right; when pursuing the wrong ends, goals, or purpose. The “righter” you do the wrong thing, the “wronger” you become.
You see, stating the purpose of your business as “making money” provides ample justification for purchasing—I mean investment in—those cool tools. More efficiency, cutting cost is, in principle, good for bottom line results. But, it does not solve any effectiveness problems. Moreover, chances are it may well aggravate the problem by spreading over different departments, disguised as different manifestations of the same root cause(s). Note that, for example, reducing the work force will cut cost but is no guarantee it will improve overall performance—efficiency should not be accomplished at the expense of effectiveness. Faltering effectiveness is likely to increase cost.
The Moral of This Article
The solution to an effectiveness problem is not found in any outside Solution Depot. Instead, it should be found inside your own mind; most notably your perception of the business, whether you see it as a singular, unique, integrated, and open system; your beliefs regarding the business’s purpose, and your definition of success. Everything flows from there on out as relationships between cause and effect, and means and ends.
Ask yourself, if business is like motorsports, how many teams do you know that win races and ultimately the championship, that brag about their efficiency as main contributing factor to their success? I cannot name a single one. Then, why would business be any different?
Imagine the amount of money that can be saved, and increase bottom line results, by NOT buying into the sales pitch that comes with every cool tool on offer at the Solution Depot. After all, you’d be surprised to see how relatively insignificant root causes have massive effects in the form of enterprise-wide friction and conflict. Even though many root causes don’t require expensive solutions, you will have to diagnose them first! And, invariably, the seed of the solution is wrapped inside the root cause. How efficient is that approach to reducing friction and conflict?
Solving an effectiveness problem is first and foremost, a way of thinking with some tools attached.
“While it is easy to focus on the tools, and while it is easy to teach the tools, the tools are secondary to the way of thinking. Learn the tools and you have nothing. You will not know what to do. You will not know how to use the tools effectively. Learn and practice the way of thinking that undergirds the tools and you will begin an unending journey of continual improvement. Without major capital expenditures you will discover how to increase both quality and productivity, and thereby improve your competitive position.”[i]
To read more, get a copy of my book The Root Cause: Rethink Your Approach To Solving Stubborn Enterprise-Wide Problems.
[i] Understanding Variation, The Key to Managing Chaos, 2nd Edition By Donald J. Wheeler, Ph.D. Copyright © 2000 by SPC Press, Knoxville, Tennessee, U.S.A. All Rights Reserved, 140.