Efficiency is the ability to achieve goals with minimal waste of resources. In the diagram below resources are listed on the left. Human resources are the people, the talent, the skill set. Material resources are the equipment, facilities, natural resources needed. Financial resources are the cash or the source of funding.
The results are broken out into three categories: scope is the quantity created, range of elements that are needed, quality is how well the work is going to be done, and timeline is how quickly the work can be done. The degree of efficiency can be thought of as what is needed for results. The degree of efficiency is thought of as the results achieved relative to the amount of resources used. Optimal efficiency can be thought of as getting the most that you possibly can out of what you have or the best results with the least resources used. You can imagine that context is extremely important when optimizing efficiency.
Just because one set of changes has the greatest impact on efficiency does not mean it is the most desirable set of changes in a given context. When improving efficiency, it's important to begin by establishing which factors are relatively fixed and are relatively flexible. The degree to which these factors are fixed or flexible is based on organizational goals and parameters.
Efficiency within a given set of activities ideally increases with time until a state of maximum efficiency has been achieved based on the current resources.
Here's a simple illustration. Let's say you're moving along in a process, and you discover at some point you need to add a responsibility or a task.
The scope, which was once fixed, changes. A team member points out that the added responsibility from the widened scope will require more time. All aspects impact each other.
Human resources efficiency is also known as workforce productivity. Overall efficiency is impacted not only by which resources are used in which ways, but also how efficient an individual resource is in and of itself. Workforce productivity can be evaluated at each level: individual, team, departmental, and organizational.
In the case of an individual resource, efficiency may be impacted by experience with related work. How has the quality of an individual's training been? What is their educational background? What is their natural aptitude in a work environment? Do they have good work habits? Individual efficiency can be improved by ensuring that people are assigned to tasks for which they are well suited, and they receive adequate training and on-boarding.
At the team level, additional factors come into play. This includes clarity of goals, roles, and responsibilities. Quality of communication is important. Do team members trust each other enough to raise red flags when they're seeing some obstacles? Is there a nice balance of skills, abilities, and experience? Are their perspectives well-balanced? Are they a diverse team? Do they have collective ability to handle change, remain flexible, and embrace ambiguous situations? These are all taken into account in workforce productivity.
Now that you can identify factors that influence workforce productivity, how can you improve personal efficiency? There are many things someone can do to improve their own efficiency.
Clarifying requirements is the first thing. Wasting too much work adding bells and whistles or achieving an unnecessary level of quality (being a perfectionist, for example) can get in the way. Establish the desired level of quality and scope early on to avoid inefficiencies in this area. Keep your eye on the goals. Keeping the high-level goals in mind can help clarify thinking and avoid losing time making difficult decisions when there are multiple options relative to how to proceed.
Ask yourself: what are the dependencies? When one task is dependent on another, time may be wasted if a hand-off is missed or if the wrong task is completed first. Make sure your priorities match the priorities of your team and the organization as a whole, and communicate your challenges and obstacles.
Someone else might be able to complete the task with much greater efficiency. And there might be a role that is a better fit for you. Leveraging your colleagues is important. If a particular task is well-suited for you but part of that task is out of your zone of expertise, call someone in who's knowledgeable rather than trying to muddle through it yourself. Be sure to ask for feedback. If tasks are unclear or if it's inefficient, ask your supervisor for direct reports for feedback.
Lastly, be willing to change your approach and try something new. Think outside the box, especially if your current approach is not working for you or if it's inefficient.
Flexibility is defined as the ability to handle change well. Since change is a constant element for any organization, it's valuable to be flexible, and it's even more valuable to develop a flexible team. Flexibility may include the ability to handle new roles for tasks; the ability to work with a wide range of people; being open to new ideas, techniques, and methods; and being comfortable with altering existing processes or trying new ones.
New tasks and work may lead to professional advancement or increased responsibility. Flexible people are better able to contribute to team success. When an individual is successful and the team is successful, morale is high.
For those who are resistant to change, there are ways to improve flexibility. Practice being flexible. Often, people resist change because they think they know how things will turn out.
When processes have achieved a high level of efficiency or they've settled into a particular approach, there's often resistance to significant changes.
Resistance or inflexibility in the situation is common because significant changes almost always result in an initial loss of efficiency. After all, you're developing new parameters and approaches, and new elements are revised or incorporated. The hope is that the temporary loss of efficiency will propel the overall efficiency of the entire process higher. Since optimizing efficiency involves experimentation and making changes, flexibility of all team members will bring a more rapid improvement to efficiency. Flexible teams, after all, are able to be more creative, since the team as a whole will handle change well. Ultimately, this results in a greater efficiency and a higher-performing team. The thinking here is that taking that risk in a loss of efficiency will bring higher results overall.
Source: This work is adapted from Sophia author Kelly Nordstrom