call centerA Harvard Business Review article, “Our economy is obsessed with efficiency and terrible at everything else,” discusses a provocative topic, but doesn’t really advance the discussion very much. The general thesis is that by focusing on becoming “efficient” – primarily through the use of apps to perform basic, everyday functions — we are losing “productivity.” The author, Umair Haque, defines productivity as somewhat similar to innovation. I have been looking into the issue of the obsession with efficiency a lot recently, but through a different lens. For example, in one of my earlier blogs I talked about my ridiculous experience with a global shipping company. Also, we have been conducting many transformational leadership and change programs recently. As a result, it has become quite clear that an obsession with efficiency is a major barrier to change, especially in blocking responsiveness to market changes. Stepping back a little, I have to ask why efficiency is such a focus. I was recently talking with one of the members of my Board of Directors who happens to be a very experienced executive. He said that leadership is under such constant earning pressures that they focus on the easiest way to achieve improvements, such as squeezing gains out of the current workforce. How can efficiency possibly be a barrier to change? We see the intense focus on efficiency in virtually every organizational role, but most predominantly in call centers. The majority of call centers are driven by incredibly tight and demanding metrics about call times, call resolution and abandon rates. All of these factors are about making the interaction more “efficient” from a time and labor perspective. However, it’s not necessarily more efficient from a customer satisfaction and loyalty perspective. Unfortunately, by demanding these efficiencies, organizations are creating somewhat of a Darwinian effect. Companies are over-specializing the function so that when the environmental conditions change, the organization no longer has the ability to adapt. After all, change is inherently inefficient and therefore all of the organization’s values and measures are a force against change—the situation implied by Haque. When a leader puts too much focus on making an organization efficient, he or she will usually see a higher turnover rate, because such a company becomes a miserable place to work. More importantly, the organization will lose the ability to be successful in the long-run. What do you think? Has the quest for too much efficiency become detrimental to organizations?]]>

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