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Does efficiency cause career stagnation?

Does being efficient prevent you from advancing your career? I had some really intense discussion about this today and I...

Does being efficient prevent you from advancing your career? I had some really intense discussion about this today and I was surprised at the preliminary observations. In this world now, "perception of being efficient" is directly proportional to the "perception you create on how busy you are".

A definition first.

Efficiency = Ability to design, develop and implement tangible and lasting solutions in as simple a way as possible with minimum resources and fuss.

Let us say you are efficient. That usually means, you have less free time. When you’ve less free time, you don’t get to communicate much on non-work related issues or in other words, less socializing. You are focused on your work - and not discussing weather, TV shows or movies for 2 hours per day. That means, you hit on problems or issues quickly and you can address and resolve issues quickly. Not sitting upon issues and then making a hue and cry about the issues as lumpsum. That in turn means, you are not annoying your boss most of the time. You might think it is a good thing, but bad point is that you are not visible on your manager’s radar. You get less exposure, but a good reputation with the manager on being the "do it" guy. What happens? Your boss keeps you on where he thinks you are the best. In other words, career stagnation.

What happens to your team? Probably nothing other than the fact that you are unhappy. If you’ve strong ethics, you loose quite badly too.

Let us say you are inefficient. Usually, this generates lot of slack time for you, when you are waiting for input from someone else - especially if the concept of finding things out on your own is alien to you. Slack time generates unrelated and irrelevant communication at work place which quickly degenerates to gossip. Gossip in turn unearths non-existant problems, because you always have issues that can be blamed on someone outside your gossip group. When your boss needs to know why things aren’t moving, you get to raise multitude of issues (originating from gossip sessions). Now, if the boss is under pressure to foster employee growth, this quickly becomes a situation like "only the crying baby gets milk". You get attention. Attention gets you exposure. In the 21st century, managers very rarely want to bring up negative exposure because this is such a litiguous society and nobody wants any trouble. What happens? At least to keep you happy, your career is propelled upwards.

What about the team? Gossip continues that gossip actually works. It becomes a melee where everyone has complaints and no solutions.

There are several possible root causes for these, from a manager’s point of view:

  1. Manager follows (or is under pressure to follow) a people-first:fill-tasks-next instead of tasks-first:fill-resources-next mode of hiring.

  2. Uneven and unexplained skill levels among team members.

  3. Unexplained and unreasonable expectations.

  4. Uneven kudos/feedback system. If person A takes 1 hour to complete a task and if person B takes 5 hours to complete it, it is easy for bad managers to assume that A did a bad job or A didn’t commit him/herself fully. Before making that assumption, first check if B took a 4 hour lunch break. Let A know that you appreciate it and B know that you expected a 1 hour turn around time.

  5. Not pointing out where expectations were not met is bad.

  6. Level the resources. Keep every one busy. If 10% of your team works 45 hour week and 90% works 35 hour week, there is every chance that there is efficient/non-efficient employee fragmentation in your team.

  7. Don’t close your eyes and believe it is night. You can and must say what you feel. If you find good work, appreciate it. Find bad work, give feedback on the minuses.

  8. Focus upon tangible and lasting deliverables. If you listen too much to details on achieving the deliverable - like how many meetings people attended - you can quickly get side tracked from checking on the status of the deliverable. Still worse, you might completely demoralize employees who produce results.

If you consider yourself an efficient employee who has a self-marketing problem (no wonder there since you don’t get much marketing time if you are efficient) and if you feel you are doing other employees' work too, I suggest the following:

  1. Keep an itemized list of expectations from your job description. Get your manager to prioritize these.

  2. Keep a detailed log of your activities that includes project code, time spent per day, whether it was planned or not and what type of activity it was (like RESEARCH, DESIGN, CODE, SUPPORT...). You’d be amazed to see how much time you are spending for SUPPORT! These are hard numbers that you can take to your boss. These are also hard numbers that can help you deciding whether you’ve a problem or you have a "self-perceived problem".

  3. Keep a public list of all the tasks you are planning to do and their priority and deadlines. That’ll really help you in planning ahead. It’ll also help in informing others that you are really busy doing work, not discussing the Academy Awards.

  4. If the numbers above shows an alarming percentage (>25%) goes for support, check it against your job description. Are you supposed to spend so much time supporting others?

  1. I am going through a similar situation that you describe.

    As a result of the effects of 9/11, my company too, went through immediate downsizing. Unfortunately as some departments have rebounded to workable levels, I am fighting for replacement of one position.

    I have been told by uppermanagement that we must find a way to be more effecient. I agree, but as I worked 290 days in 2002, it is hard to devote time to review the departments I oversee to determine what steps can be taken. It is even more difficult to evaluate as the majority of those departments are not located within our Corporate offices..

    It is strange they are not able to see that working people 280-290 days a year is as in-effecient as you can get... Its not about efficiency, but the bottom line.

    I found your article very inlighting.

    Posted by: David on December 15, 2003 01:04 PM