Efficiency is Behavior

Working remotely and leading a remote team is not always so different from doing that same work locally. Many of the challenges are similar, if not exactly the same.

One thing that’s been on my mind a lot, and if you work in any sort of revenue-driven enterprise, it’s something you think about a lot as well, is the idea of efficiency, and how we can create more efficient situations.

I find a tension exists between traditional operations management ideas and approaches to efficiency gains (calculate throughput, build a sensitivity analysis, reduce waste) and my own approach to leadership, which is a sort of mix of servant leadership and hopeless romantic labor reformer.

That tension is the natural pressure that exists between the idea of employees, Workers, as a numerical input into a larger system (the average Subway sandwich maker can produce one point four sandwiches every five minutes. Reducing that to one point three would represent etc etc, just an example) and the belief that every person has creative value, that the folks working closest to the problem (the sandwich) are those most qualified to solve that problem better, or faster.

I’m not the first person to see this tension – we can read the massive acceptance of and growing excitement about Lean as an antidote to this very tension, if we’re generous, since we can see in the Toyota Production system great empowerment of what you’d call line workers to identify problems, repair, and improve their own Work.

There is a difference between efficiency on a spreadsheet (or, even worse, a Powerpoint presentation) and efficiency in action.

My team is fairly small – it’s me and eleven Happiness Engineers – and for us, efficiency is behavior. It’s actions – it’s not such a fungible idea, it’s not a board room topic. It’s about doing something One Way or This Other Way, and seeing which gets better results in the same amount of time – or the same results in less time, then going with it.

If you’re leading a team, especially a smaller team and double especially if you’re leading a remote team, you must recognize that efficiency comes from behavior, and by testing and changing behavior.

We will never get more efficient with a poster with a quote from Deming under a high res photo of a  fighter jet. The only way we’re going to get more efficient is by trying out new stuff, and chucking it if it doesn’t work.

That means leaving room for failure. That means kicking out the sacred cows and rejecting dogma. There is enormous value in reading and in discussing and in building spreadsheets – don’t get me wrong, I love spreadsheets – but all of those things have to result in action, in trying some shit out.

Otherwise, it’s just air, it’s just value locked up inside your head, and we’ve been over that.

Try something new today. Sleep one less hour. Sleep one more hour. Don’t check your email. Turn off Slack. Listen to one song on repeat.

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