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This blog is about efficiency. David Ducheyne pleads to be a bit less efficient in order to become more effective.

The Borg

Star Trek fans might remember the Borg. The Borg are half organic half technological, and they focus on assimilating other species. These cyborgs are all connected to a collective entity and have no free will. They do as they are supposed to in a very efficient way.

The Borg are a metaphor for what we could become if we set aside our free will and identity. Although they are a mighty species (all resistance is futile, we will assimilate you), they lack resourcefulness, flexibility, and creativity. They are, on the other hand, very efficient.

The Quest for Efficiency

Under the influence of scientific management, we are still striving for efficiency. Managing resources cost-effectively seems to be the right thing to do, and nobody will object to that. The only question is if the quest for efficiency does not kill that other important aspect of organizations, people’s experience.

Unlike Borg, people have their expectations. They come with their personality, their cognitive biases, their implicit and explicit motives. When working in an organization, they are looking to fulfill their needs: ranging from security and income to doing what they like. And so, the way they experience their organization will define their behavior.


I saw a keynote by Mike Lee at #hrtech the other day. He was talking about organizations that had no or less hierarchy. He said that striving for a low hierarchy organization is not the right thing to do. People who perform well and who have a preference for unstructured organizations will thrive. But those who prefer more structure will not like to work in that kind of environment. These insights help us to put autonomy in perspective. We should not be judgmental about preferring structured environments, and that is why we should offer both: more and less structure. In that way, people have an experience that fits their needs.

That seems to be inefficient. And yes, it is. We could choose to offer one kind of experience, but we cannot afford to select only those who fit and leave others out in a tight labor market.  We need to look for people who can find an experience in our organization that fits their needs. And so, we must leave the standard organization, the one culture thinking, the one-size-fits-all approach. And for that, we must allow for inefficiencies.

Attracting Talent

Standardized environments have a low chance of attracting enough people who are willing and able to do the job. Focusing on efficiency might be suitable for financial performance; it will not attract enough people in the long run. Standardized environments are also exclusive instead of inclusive.

When we personalize employee experience, we are abandoning the philosophy of scientific management that uses logical premises. As we embrace the human dimension of work and organization, we have no other choice than to allow for inefficiencies. And these inefficiencies will make the organization also more effective.

Of course, it is not an either/or discussion. Every organization must reach the Olympic minimum on both experience and efficiency. But it becomes interesting when there is tension between both of them.

Loyalty versus Efficiency

During the lockdown of the corona crisis, organizations could put people on temporary unemployment. Many countries in Europe have such a system. Some organizations have chosen not to use that possibility. That was for sure not efficient as they had to pay the salaries without having the income. But in terms of experience, it was a good move. By allowing their people to sit on the bench, they chose to foster the experience. The organization showed its loyalty by willing to burn the cash instead of sending people into unemployment, with a lower income as a consequence.

The essence of all of this is trust. If leaders can build a trusting relationship with the members of the organization, they will build loyalty. But on the other hand, if they focus on efficiency first, people feel like resources. They are like the sandbags management uses the moment there is a breach in the efficiency dike.

Radical Focus on Behavior

Let’s never forget that organizations are complex tangles of relationships and behaviors. If we want to build organizations and execute strategies, we need to radically focus on that behavior and assess any decision on its impact on behavior and its behavioral input. With behavioral input, I mean that we need to check if we have the minimal human conditions required to execute the strategy. These minimal conditions are about trust, leadership, collaboration, and learning.

If a decision diminishes, e.g., trust, leaders must mitigate the fall-out. And that means we need to be inefficient to preserve the human conditions required to be successful.


Sometimes it's better to be inefficient to be effective.

David DucheyneFounder of Otolith
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David Ducheyne is the founder of Otolith. As a former HR and business leader he focuses now on humanising strategy execution.

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