Don’t Say “Efficiency”

Photo by Carl Heyerdahl on Unsplash

I once worked for an organization that provided training and consulting to businesses and non-profits here in Northeast Ohio.  Our primary “product” was labor-management cooperation initiatives, which took many forms: lean manufacturing,  Total Quality Management, quality circles, even ISO 9000.  Oddly, the president of the organization didn’t know much about any of these concepts.  He had been a quality manager at a local manufacturing firm and the board figured he must know something about labor-management cooperation.  (Yeah, I don’t get the connection either.)

He and I would have these discussions during which he’d tell me that I needed to quit using the word “culture” and use the term “efficiency” more often.  “Managers don’t understand ‘culture’ but they understand ‘efficiency'”, he’d argue.  I would agree that managers didn’t understand “culture”.  I’d go on to say that they didn’t understand “efficiency” either.  But, they’re employees had a clear idea as to what managers meant when they used the word.  And they didn’t see it as good for them.

My point was (and remains today) that managers use the word “efficiency” as a euphemism to mean “We want more of the stuff we like without you asking for more of the stuff you like” when talking with employees.  When managers talk about “improving efficiency”, employees never (NEVER) imagine that they’re going to hear anything that will be good for them.  I’m sure many of you reading this have heard your own managers talk about “efficiency”.  Did you, for a moment, imagine that what those managers had in mind was more investment in learning experiences  and more autonomy for you?  (If so, good for you…you had one of those rare, very enlightened bosses who really understood how to optimize the performance of a work team. )

“But don’t employees use that word, too?”  They sure do…sometimes.  But they use it as a synonym for “work together better” or something like that.  You can bet that they don’t mean “we’ll work harder and faster for the same or even less consideration”…which, too often, is what their bosses have in mind even if they don’t want to say it out loud.

So, don’t say “efficiency”.  It doesn’t send the message that you think it does.  In future posts, I’ll tell you what you should say instead.