Confusing Efficiency and Effectiveness Recently I worked with the senior leadership team of a large warehouse and logistics company. They’re growing so rapidly they’re having big problems finding people to staff their distribution centers.

A major part of that problem is turnover. They’re losing warehouse workers almost as quickly as they’re hired. Costs are soaring and projected to get worse.

As I listened to their leaders focus on hard processes, metrics, and systems it became crystal clear that the “soft skills” of leadership and culture weren’t even on their radar. Their plans to reduce their horrendous engagement and retention problem focused on better hiring/orientation practices and HR systems.

In the strategy session, the CEO declared that technical and analytical skills were the key to career advancement at their company. He went so far as to state, “you can be a complete a–hole as long as you’re the smartest person in the room.”

Listening to the team’s strategies and plans, reminded me of the efficiency expert’s report on hearing a symphony at the Royal Festival Hall in London. I first read this years ago in Paul Dickson’s book, The Official Rules. He says there are a number of versions of this report dating back to 1955. Today experts in lean, ERP systems, or process improvement might give a similar report.

For considerable periods, the four oboe players had nothing to do. The number should be reduced, and the work spread more evenly over the whole of the concert, thus eliminating peaks of activity.

 All the twelve violins were playing identical notes; this seems unnecessary duplication. The staff of this section should be drastically cut. If a larger volume of sound is required, it could be obtained by electronic apparatus.

 Much effort was absorbed in the playing of demi-semi-quavers; this seems an unnecessary refinement. It is recommended that all notes should rounded up to the nearest semi-quaver. If this was done it would be possible to use trainees and lower grade operatives more extensively.

 There seems to be too much repetition of some musical passages. Scores should be drastically pruned. No useful purpose is served by repeating on the horns a passage that has already been handled by the strings. It is estimated that if all redundant passages were eliminated, the whole concert time of two hours could be reduced to twenty minutes and there would be no need for an intermission.

 The conductor agrees generally with these recommendations, but expressed the opinion that there might be some falling off in box-office receipts. In that unlikely event it should be possible to close sections of the auditorium entirely, with a consequential saving of overhead expenses, lighting, attendance, etc. If the worst came to the worst, the whole thing could be abandoned and the public could go to Albert Hall instead.

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