Peter Drucker wrote that he had never met an executive (or anyone else, presumably) who was “naturally effective” — it had to be learned. That’s pretty encouraging, I think. Every so often it seems one word or another becomes a sort of business mantra for awhile. At some point, that word might have been management. Later, (recent history) that word was more likely to be leadership. Even more recently, we get excited about productivity (GTD, etc). Productivity, to me, seems closely related to this idea of effectiveness — which, in Drucker’s esteemed opinion, can be learned.
Depending on your personality, you might find the idea of effectiveness either compelling or otherwise. It has a certain hardness to it (ref. Michael Barone’s Hard America, Soft America). Effectiveness would seem to be results-based; it is measurable, traceable, and objective. If it isn’t any of these things, by what stretch of meaning could we persist in labelling it “effective”? There is room for a little ambiguity; if you wanted to be contrary, you could argue that any action is effective, that is — it has an effect. Said effect may or may not resemble the desired result, but it certainly occurs. That might be an amusing, somewhat perverse, diversion, but the assumption is that in talking about effectiveness, we are talking about a specific effect, a result which we are aiming for.The problem with objectivity, with measurable results, with traceable actions, is that we, as a society, increasingly rebel against being held responsible for anything. (I won’t go on about the “victim” mentality that is so prevalent over the past decade, but I doubt anyonereading this is unfamiliar with that trend.) If a result is measurable, that means that not only can success be measured, so can failure. Not only that, the very concept of a measure indicates that there is no evading responsibility; if you’ve failed to be effective, there’s no one to blame but yourself. Not a popular idea, most places. On the other hand, I think it’s a very popular idea among some people, myself included. I think most people, if they consider it, don’t have a problem accepting responsibility as long as they are aware of what is expected of them. By definition, the idea of effectiveness presupposes that you do know what is expected; otherwise, how in the world could you measure the effectiveness of a person, an action, or a process?
Another distinction Drucker makes is between efficiency and effectiveness; efficiency, he said, is doing things right; effectiveness is doing the right things. I think I’ll stop here; there’s nothing groundbreaking in what I just wrote. Maybe just a little food for thought.
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