Efficiency has almost always been seen as a good thing. In business and the world of work, it is something that is still an aim. It is seen as the elimination of waste in resources, whether it be time, money, or anything else. This idea runs through all companies and businesses. You could be in an industry that makes thermoplastic paint or one that externally processes business administration; efficiency will be a value that is highly sought and praised.
Efficiency can mean fragility
But can something be too efficient? Today’s workflows can be very complex and multi-layered, and to get things done faster and more cheaply, companies have turned to automation and cutting down on unnecessary processes. That has yielded higher returns for less expenditure.
However, some unnecessary processes are unnecessary until they prove to be very much necessary. These are redundancies, and they come in the form of quality checks and alternative methods that guarantee production or quality.
Something that is 100% efficient is perfectly tuned for an ideal environment and conditions. Take, for example, a cartel. When a few big players control the market, they can better structure their operations and do it to mass scale. They can also set geographic or operational agreements with each other to further maximize production and profit. They have the opportunity and the ability to eradicate as much waste as possible. But if something goes wrong, as was witnessed recently by the lack of meat in the US market due to the pandemic, huge parts of the system crash and cannot be fixed easily. Hyper-efficient operations cannot immediately switch to a lower, more inefficient model and hope to produce anywhere near the productivity needed. The more efficient a business is, the more fragile and unable it is to respond to calamity and uncertainty.
Resilience, the ability to withstand and continue if something goes wrong or a process is removed, seems counter efficiency, and it is. The more you have redundancy, the more resilient your operation is. One system goes down, and another immediately replaces it. But since you don’t know when your system might go down, you have to keep both systems running. I might have files saved onto my hard disk. However, as a back-up, I pay a monthly subscription to a cloud storage service. If I predominantly use my hard drive to get the information, I would rarely use the cloud storage, yet I’m still paying for the back-up.
Even before the pandemic, companies were looking to be as lean and efficient as possible. Covid-19 has made some companies focus even more on efficiency as revenues have been hit.
What needs to happen is not necessarily a shift towards more efficiency but to more resilience. Processes need to become more flexible and give some allowance for unexpected occurrences. An excellent way to be efficient and resilient is to cross-train people in the skills of their colleagues in the company. Though they would not be as specialized, they could cover so that you wouldn’t get the same quality or production with the same resources, but you’d still be able to function.
In a work environment more in flux than ever before, smart moderation seems to be the best business aim. The value of hyper-efficient needs to be re-examined and possibly changed for something more resilient.