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Forced efficiency does not work

Updated: May 7, 2022

Given the need to do more with less, it’s understandable that leaders demand efficiencies. Unfortunately, they often try to force efficiencies to occur by arbitrarily reducing resources or by demanding more outcomes. Perversely, in complex human systems this almost always leads to a dynamic of reducing efficiency AND reducing effectiveness.

Most of us have personally experienced this. When resources are cut, people are under even more pressure and are unlikely to have the time or energy needed for developing and implementing well-designed changes. It’s more likely that they will just work harder, cut corners and leave some work undone.

Effectiveness (quality of outcomes) is the first casualty, followed by the need to manage the consequences of poor outcomes, big and small. Instead of efficiency, we have churn, crisis management and both lower effectiveness and lower efficiency.

Perhaps because these impacts occur over time and because leaders don’t want to hear that their decisions are driving performance down, the root causes are not understood and leaders are not held accountable. The story repeats. We don’t learn.

Yet this is NOT inevitable, if we change our underlying assumptions. We need to accept that in complex human systems, the only way to real efficiency is through effectiveness. If we first invest the time and resources required to build effective, sustainable, viable business systems - we almost always find that (1) they are surprisingly efficient already and (2) we can find ways to improve efficiency without reducing effectiveness. That's win-win!!

Applying this in practice is part of RiskIQ’s Proactive-agility Framework. You can quickly assess the proactive agility of your organisation by doing RiskIQ's Proactive-agility Survey. Or read more at

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