Efficiency vs. productivity

Most people believe that efficiency and productivity are one in the same, synonymous words that mean getting more done in less time. In fact, efficiency and productivity are two very different things in today’s business world.

Here are your new definitions. Webster, take note:

Efficiency The amount of error-free work performed over time.

Productivity The quality of work performed.

Allow me to elucidate. When an industrial factory is manufacturing car door handles, efficiency is paramount. The more car door handles that are produced, without errors, the more profit the company makes. Quality is not a factor, because each and every car door handle is the same — if the parts are error-free, nothing is different and the same result can be expected throughout the same time frame every day. Hold that thought.

Now, I’m currently planning a business seminar with a colleague who lives about an hour away. We’re both tech-savvy, which is why he suggested we have an online chat to plan the seminar. I preferred we meet over lunch in a city halfway between us.

That’s because when you’re face-to-face, external distractions seem more distant. You’re free to focus on the person in front of you and the tasks at hand, rather than worry about what else you could be doing. Personal meetings help form a bond that digital devices cannot, even when people are on the other end of the bandwidth.

If my colleague and I are free to enjoy our lunch, catch up and share ideas without time constraints, our creative juices will flow and we’ll brainstorm better ideas and an outstanding presentation. Without that bond, we’re simply thinking out loud into a mic. With it, we’re sharing — and dynamically capitalizing on each other’s ideas. Maybe you’re different, but no webcam has ever replaced that for me — they’re too cold.

My colleague’s way was more efficient, sure; however, my way is more productive. The quality of the presentation, and our ability to profit from it, will be enhanced by our face-to-face meeting. In this instance, it’s worth sacrificing efficiency in order to be more productive.

This doesn’t always work. Our factory could make the highest-quality car door handles in the world, guaranteed not to break, however, that would get too expensive, so efficiency rules. But for our presentation, quality is paramount — the better we do on one night, the better our businesses will be in the long run. Which will make us more efficient?

Which do you prefer — efficiency or productivity? How do you decide when to favor one over the other?