Effectiveness at work

We already touched on effectiveness in the section on The Foundations of Great Leadership. It's the second of the four foundation competencies of leadership, along with expectations, execution and engagement.

But what do we mean by effectiveness?


In the context of leadership, effectiveness is about doing the right things.

That means deciding on what must be done, and on how it will be done. A leader may be good at getting stuff done, but if he or she is not leading the team in pursuit of the right things, or the right course of action, he or she cannot succeed as a leader. You might refer to this as your strategy, or your plan, or your goal. The wording may change according to the size or type of responsibility that you have. But the key point remains- you need to decide on what has to be done and how it will be delivered. Getting that right is a key part of being an effective leader.



We can test this concept of effectiveness with some examples as follows. You may have differing views about what has to be done in each case, and that's ok! We are trying to illustrate a process here, rather than nail down specific actions.

Example 1- A hotel general manager.

Let's assume our hotel manager (Jane) has clarified the expectations of the shareholders. That's step one taken care of. They have told her that what they want is a good return on their investment in the hotel, characterised by a generous, sustained and rising level of profit. So far so good! 


We might reasonably conclude therefore that to be effective Jane has to focus on: 

1) Attracting guests

2) Providing a great guest experience

3) Delivering what the guests regard as good value

4) Doing the above at a cost that is rather less than the guests pay, otherwise there is no profit!


So there are four key deliverables here in order for Jane to be effective. She can now set about the task of working out how to do it, getting it done efficiently (execution) and getting everyone motivated and committed to the tasks (engagement). The extent to which Jane is effective depends on whether she made the right calls on what to do, and whether it gets done.

Example 2- A customer service manager.

Our customer service manager Gill is responsible for a group of people who take calls and emails from customers, all related to service issues. She has clarified with her boss that the goal is to deal with all requests from customers for help, making sure they are dealt with effectively and at the least possible cost to the business. Gill has been smart enough to talk to the other managers in the company to make sure that she understands their expectations of her team, and she in turn has agreed her expectations with them. 


Gill has worked out that to be effective she must:

1) Ensure the customers are always treated in a friendly, courteous, professional and helpful way.

2) Ensure that queries or requests for help are concluded swiftly, thoroughly and with no loose ends.

3) Ensure that the queries are dealt with at the minimum total cost to the company (including the costs of her department and the costs incurred elsewhere in the business).

4) Ensure that the causes of the queries or requests are reduced, so eliminating work for the company. 

Gill's thought process has already increased her value to the company. Someone less capable than Gill might well have thought about items 1 and 2. But by deciding to take responsibility for items 3 and 4 as well, Gill is showing real leadership. Her effectiveness (and value) will undoubtedly increase if she is able to deliver on all four issues.


Gill has worked out how to be effective, by understanding what she must accomplish. Now she has to plan out in detail what needs to be done in order to deliver on all four goals. Once she has her plan, she can move to the next step- execution.

Example 3- A team leader in a fulfilment centre. 

Let's assume that Chris is responsible for a team in a fulfilment centre. His people pick products off shelves and put them in tote boxes that come past their picking station on a conveyor. Chris knows the job well and passes the first big test of a leader- he has a well developed value system. See the section on The Bedrock of Great Leadership for an explanation.


A big challenge for Chris is that people come and go in the fulfilment centre. He often has new people to lead and the training they get before being sent to him is minimal. Chris has listened to his boss about what he wants from him and unsurprisingly the boss has made clear it's all about accuracy and speed. Chris has worked out that to be effective he must:

1) Ensure that people are properly skilled to do the job.

2) Ensure that his people are engaged and happy in their work, in order that they stay and give of their best.

3) Ensure that accuracy and speed are measured, recognised and rewarded.

Having understood the expectations placed upon him, Chris has done some thinking and knows how to be effective. He must now set out a plan that explains how to make it happen. He can then move on to putting it into practice- the execution phase.

'Effective executives focus on outward contribution. They gear their efforts to results rather than to work. They start out with the question 'What results are expected of me?''
Peter Drucker, The Effective Executive, Butterworth Heinemann Ltd.
'It is no use saying “we are doing our best.” You have to succeed in doing what is necessary.'
Winston Churchill

'Efficiency is doing things right. Effectiveness is doing the right things.'

Peter Drucker

Putting effectiveness into practice

There are three key things that you are going to have to do in order to translate your good intentions into genuine 'effectiveness'.

1. Work on the right things

We already looked at this with our examples above. If you are not working on the right things, by definition you are not being effective.


2. Manage your time ruthlessly

Much of the time of leaders and managers gets taken up on activities that contribute nothing to the accomplishment of their key tasks- the things that really matter.

Organisations, by their very nature create activities that sap your time and make it much harder to be effective. Endless meetings, requests for help, invitations to get involved, people issues, committees, work groups and the like all mean that the time available to work on what really matters gets seriously eroded. And the higher up the organisation you go, the worse it gets.


In order to be effective you have to block out chunks of time in your calendar during which you work on what really matters in your job - and that means the things that make you effective. We often hear about the concern that many people are working 'in' the business, but few work 'on' the business. You need to decide how much time you are going to devote to working on the things that will make you effective, and then guard that time jealously.

3. Be disciplined

All the good intentions and knowledge are of little use if you lack the discipline to get it done. The journal we talked about elsewhere on this site is the place where you write down your goals, your plans and your notes as to how you are getting on. It's a powerful tool to help keep you focussed. You need to think about each day and decide what you are going to get done. By constantly referring to your list of actions to make you effective in your job you have a regular prompt that should at least stop effectiveness from slipping out of your mind!

The use of a mentor or coach can really help to keep you focused as well. Being 'accountable' to such a person provides useful additional pressure. See the section on Learning and Development for more help on this topic.

Arrows hitting target

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