Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

The Myth of Efficiency II

Originally posted on March 5, 2015

A recent conversation on email with a colleague who is interested in emotional intelligence sparked my thinking: I realize that I’ve written about the myth of efficiency before, but this just raised the theme again. He wrote, “I strongly believe that strong communication and understanding will always triumph business owners who focus mainly on numbers, and not their employees. Unfortunately, many workplaces are moving away from this concept, and creating more stressful environments for their employees, leading to more unhappiness and stress.”

I responded:  The reason why EI is losing strength is that managers and executives believe that simply commanding someone to do more with less will exhibit their leadership. Scott Adams had a Dilbert cartoon about this. The idea that there’s a power relationship doesn’t occur and isn’t spoken. The possibility that raising the bar is not really good management, but rather torture, is lost on such shallow folks. Sadly, they are not directly disabused of their mythic notions and so continue them. Failure is identified as lying somewhere other than their own foolish behaviors.

Subordinates faced with escalating demands by their bosses will rarely realize that these are irrational, stupid. Rather, they’ll assume the boss really knows, because, well, he’s the boss! Subordinates will then cut corners and reproach themselves for not having done well enough. The upper level doesn’t recognize that they them-selves are participating unwittingly in the demoralization of their subordinates, and the subordinates, lower middle managers and on-line service deliverers, believe that their bosses know what they’re doing. The superiors in the chain of command most definitely do not know! They are passing along the myth of efficiency: There must be "some way" to cut time, costs, whatever. The truth is that beyond just a little fat-trimming, there are not ways, and corner-cutting ends up hurting the customer, reducing the quality of service, etc.

This pattern is rampant in of all places medical clinics and hospitals where managers are told by their supervisors to become more "efficient." The sub-text is "I don’t know how you should be more efficient. And I don’t want to hear your excuses." This is in fact a double-bind. The truth is that efficiency itself is largely an illusion, a goal introduced by efficiency experts in the 1920s. Really, you get what you pay for. Excessive hurry trickles down. The downside is that it leads to incredible stress, unhappiness, burn out, taking-it-out-on-patients or customers, and so forth. So I’m trying to “diagnose” the problem correctly.

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