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1 x 0 = 0 … 0 x 1 = 0 (Efficient, Effective, Desired Outcome) by Erik Sherman

People can be pulled into a business and put on a task. If you’re lucky, they will all add 6 hours of effort to a day of work and each person continues to add that same predictable number of hours to the pool. The truth is that many of those people are contributing different amount of effort. It might be 5 hours, 8 hours, 3 hours. In your wisdom, you determine you need to hire a supervisor. Who better than someone who knows the job inside and out? Someone who has possibly even performed that job themselves. So you promote from within. What you are hoping for is a person who can get each team member contributing equal effort over the same time period. Someone who can create some consistency in the calculation so that deadlines are reached.

When you promoted from within, Was the position backfilled, or did you cannibalize the hours of effort being pooled, picking one person who contributes the most consistently and give them the responsibility of a supervisor? If you never thought about it like that, you might find yourself wondering why this team is suddenly less productive than they used to be. This could be for the obvious reason. You took someone who was effective and efficient in their role and attempted to turn them into a model for others to follow. With a team of 5 this could result in a total effort pool of 29 hours being turned into 25 hours. When examining how it happened, you find that the person you promoted was the one putting in 8 hours of effort and now they can only accomplish 5 hours in a day. Yes, they were efficient and effective in their role, but that role has changed. Now they are coordinating effort of a team and finding they can’t do as much as they used to. This does not account for possible resentment and work-to-rule situations from one or two members of the original team are resentful they weren’t selected for the promotion. The resentment will wear off eventually, but not until it takes a toll on morale. Perhaps you saw this coming and decided to backfill that new supervisors old role, making sure to add hours of effort to the pool in an attempt to compensate for the predictable loss in productivity. The assumption would be that a new person will slide right in and pick up where the last person left off, right? Wrong. That new person needs training and support. They will get some from their Supervisor, but know that they will be getting it from their peers too. Frequently when the supervisor isn’t paying attention. Lets not forget the newly promoted Supervisor is still going to be spending some of their effort on coordination, meaning you may see the drop to 29 hours for a period, but the recovery will be faster. You should see that same team producing more as their hours of effort climb to include the new-hire as well. Here’s the ultimate question… Is all effort good effort? You may ultimately get 35 hours of effort from that team, but what are they doing with their time?

Any answer to this question should fit into one of two categories. Effort (or an absence of it) will either impact efficiency, a measure of quantity, and effectiveness, a measure of quality.

Efficiency is typically the golden calculation. It’s the secret sauce that shows others we know what we’re doing. If you have a printing press churning out newspapers at a rate of 1000 per minute, an improvement of 1% in efficiency will bring you to 1,010 per minute. This will be short lived if the quality of the print job is reduced as the reader will only place value in a newspaper they can actually read. The same is true for people. You can create efficiency and it may result in additional hours of effort being put in. It can also result in more productivity during that period. However, this ignores the impact of effectiveness. The ability to not only perform at the speed required, but to the quality desired. One of the first things to slip when you start focusing on efficiency is quality. A new term takes root in our language that we use with each other. Good enough. “Don’t worry, it’s good enough” This is another way of saying the boss won’t intervene because the quality is adequate to meet expectations on the customers end. Its the equivalent to running low on toner in that printing press and telling yourself that there’s still enough to get a few more papers out before you need to stop and add toner. “They can still see the print… so it’s good enough”

When exploring this a little more, you will see that there is a sort of balancing act between the efficiency of a team, and the effectiveness of a team. Effectiveness can be thrown out the window in favour of efficiency, but sales will suffer and time will be wasted. Similarly, when focusing solely on effectiveness, efficiency will take the hit. High quality goods often require high prices in order to remain profitable to produce. The supervisor is going to spend a lot of time trying to balance this equation and if they do it well, they will no longer be adding hours to the pool, they will be multiplying the hours in the pool.

1 (effective) x 1 (efficient) = 1 desired outcome

Lets go back to the act of knowing when to intervene. Supervisors very seldom have the ability to apply discipline or invest resources into training. Those fall into the domain of Managers. Supervisors are used to improve the quality and volume of output at the level of a team, this team is often working with others who either support, sell, or consume the results of the teams effort. In an effort to coordinate this effectively and efficiently, you’ll need a Manager. As with the tale of the supervisor, this manager is going to be balancing priorities relating to the output and quality of the various teams. They utilize the supervisor as their representative, coaching them on the required output before letting them loose to do their important work. But what if they don’t quite understand the desired balance?

This is where one of three things happens.

The team's effort results in lower output as the focus is placed on higher quality of work. This is a direct effect of the supervisors attention to effectiveness over efficiency. They understand the desire to be “quality over quantity” meaning intervention occurs sooner when quality begins to slip. This slows the production of the group, requiring more focus on training, and ultimately increases the costs. All the while, the Supervisor is focusing on “good enough” to keep management from having to intervene. Alternatively, the team’s effort results in higher output as they focus on meeting customer demands. The supervisor understands they must focus on meeting timelines and the effort of the team should not be impaired, unless quality falls below a certain point. As with the first outcome, they are aiming for “good enough” to keep management from having to intervene. Wait! I said one of three things will happen, and thats just two. What else might result? Confusion. Effective supervision comes from effective leaders. Keep in mind these individuals are required to compel behaviour and output from people without the legitimate authority to discipline or re-train. If the manager has not placed the necessary authority in the supervisors hands, then there is a high likelihood of confusion as one or more individuals works out of sync with the others on the basis they don’t agree with sacrificing effectiveness for efficiency. Management is solely responsible for the success and failures of those that work under their direction. This includes individuals and teams. Supervisors and those they supervise. Managers must train supervisors to lead others in times that those they are leading disagree with them. They must communicate the right information at the right time to ensure clarity. and Ensuring means it must be verified that the supervisor understands the instruction.

Finally, the manager must equip the supervisor with the necessary tools to accomplish their job. Should immediate action be required to correct an issue to do with performance, then the manager must give them sufficient authority to act in that moment. If specific tools or resources are required, then supervisors need to receive those, understanding how and when they are to be used. It is important for management to realize that an effective and efficient supervisor is a trained and empowered supervisor. They hold the necessary qualification, required skills, and are demonstrating the ability to use these things together to achieve the results they were hired for. Supervisors become an effort multiplier within that team, taking them from simply contributing hours like robots to continuously building on each others success, becoming more efficient AND effective over time. If supervisors do not understand the desired level of performance, they cannot ensure a balance; and one multiplied by zero will always get you a zero.

Until next time.


Erik Sherman

Mentor, Educator, Consultant, and Innovator

An Independent Advisor and Chief Strategist at Pioneer Safety Solutions Erik works with fast-growth businesses in the transportation, energy, and technology sectors; focusing on enhancing businesses from the inside out. With a philosophy that places individual and organizational competency ahead of all else; Erik’s goal is to help companies bridge their past accomplishments with their ambitions for the future.

Contact Erik Sherman directly


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