There are books written about the subject, but we will only touch on 8 causes that we believe have the most negative impact on workplace efficiency:
Poor fit between the person, the position and the organization.
It’s no secret that companies make poor hiring decisions all the time. As an employer, you owe it to your employees to be transparent. Talk to them about how they feel about their job, how well they think they’re doing, and even be ready to work out a transition plan into a different position. It might be their strength aren’t aligned with their current role. There’s no reason why they or the organization should continue to pretend all is well.
A disconnect between cause and effect, work and outcome.
We tend to “give work” to our teams and expect them to understand the effect it will have on the organization down the line. However, when we tie outcome to work/input, it helps people understand the value of their work in the final product or service and give them a sense of urgency and importance. It can easily be explained by asking one simple question: “what would happen to the product/service if you stopped doing what you’re doing?”
Lack of clarity regarding how responsibility is assigned
Have you ever had to complain about something over to customer support and were passed on to the next “representative” for a solution, or told that “it’s out of our hands?” That’s what lack of clarity regarding responsibility looks like. In an organization where people have no idea who is responsible for what, or even worse, know they are responsible but they will pass it on anyhow, inefficiency reins!
Responsibility needs to be assigned to people in the organization to the extent of roles – i.e. if someone is responsible to deliver a service and misses a deadline, then that’s their responsibility entirely. If they miss it twice, then it’s the manager’s responsibility. If the manager doesn’t feel compelled to address the issue, neither will their report.
Assign responsibility and hold people accountable for the quality of their work!
Nepotism – it doesn’t matter how well I do if I’m not among the preferred
Unfortunately, there are still businesses that are run through nepotism. That is gross favoritism towards people who are close to a decision maker, someone of influence or importance in the company. It’s one of the common causes of inefficiency because people all of a sudden compare their work, results, and reward to the ones of those being favored.
Any organization that doesn’t quantify and award effort according to clear criteria will suffer from inefficiency at the workplace.
Absence of feedback
There’s a direct connection between inefficiency and lack (or poor) of feedback. The unwritten rule is that what is encouraged is repeated. Managers who say anything about how well or poorly someone on their team is doing are in fact encouraging similar results. Constructive feedback requires clarity through facts and willingness to make someone (as well as yourself) feel uncomfortable. If it’s provided within the mind-frame of genuine care for the growth, and professional development of people, it can improve their performance and engagement too!
Deficiency in communication
Perhaps the most widespread of the causes of workplace inefficiency is a lack or poor quality in communication. It will affect people’s capacity to quantify how well they are doing, understanding of whether their efforts have any impact, and to act in due time to have any positive impact. It also causes frustration with the people a company needs to care about most (disclosure: not nepotism!) – those who want to work, be in time, have good results and want their job to be rewarding.
Of course, we all have 24h, and regardless of how we manage it, that doesn’t change. Leaders and especially managers have the responsibility of setting the importance and priority of projects, tasks, etc. (see the Eisenhower Matrix). Efficiency comes down to achieving your objectives with the least amount of time. The better the time management, the more efficient we are, and the more engaged we are.
We all follow steps and procedures as they are laid out in our organization’s processes. These are tremendous tools that used in the right order and provided enough attention will create the desired outcomes. However, when processes are the result of operational inertia, they can have a highly detrimental effect on an organization’s efficiency. Worst case scenarios include bottlenecks, redundancy, and misalignment. In other words, inefficiency.
All of these have deep roots in leadership but ultimately can be traced back to an organization’s mission, culture, and values. If the only purpose of a business is to create profit, then one must integrate into that equation the means to sustain and increase efficiency in the workplace!