Effective vs. Efficient

I have been recently asked to explain the difference between two very frequently used words which to some have more or less the same meaning: Efficient and Effective.

I said as an executive I would rather be Effective than Efficient and explained my position further giving them the following illustrations.

An engine when it generates more output than another for a given input, we say it is more Efficient.

A worker that loads more boxes onto a truck than a coworker is more Efficient.

A manager that does more performance reviews than another is more Efficient at that task.

But while for the first two cases more efficient meant something of importance for the subject, this is not so for the third case. For the latter, there is another dimension, the intended result, the goal. The direction of effort counts. Does he work at the right things?

So in this last case the word efficient is lacking in context, and we must use another word if we want to convey that a manager does his job well. If we return to the engine analogy, we must complement the subject, the pump, with the receiving end, the purpose. We may say for instance

A.      A pump works efficiently sending water to the sea thus wasting it, or

B.      A pump works efficiently sending water to irrigate the fields

In both cases, the pumps are efficient but only in B the arrangement is effective. So, Effective is Efficient combined with serving a purpose producing an intended result.

There is a message for managers and executives. Sometimes we feel that when we are busy working hard from 8 am to 8 pm, doing what comes at us emptying our in-trays, our job is done. But we may be like the pump that sends water to the sea working for the wrong reason wasting the resource.

The job of the manager is to discern first the purpose of the work, identify what’s important and what’s not, prioritize and select the critical tasks that connect with the company mission and milestones. It is after he does that selection that he can connect the purpose to an efficient pump engine of producing the desired outcome with maximum efficiency. It is only after that that his work gets to possess a real meaning.

This kind of work is what we call Effective and is a critical hallmark of most successful managers.