What is effectiveness?

Posted by  Mark Schenk —November 18, 2008
Filed in Communication

I just opened the book “Semper and Score: Enhancing Organisational Effectiveness” by Tom Graves and was taken by the elegantly simple answer to this question on page 2. Effectiveness consists of, or arises from, four distinct dimensions, plus another sort-of dimension that ties the others together:

  • efficient – makes the best use of available resources
  • reliable – can be relied upon to deliver the required results
  • elegant – supports the human factors in the context
  • appropriate – suports and sustains the overall purpose
  • integrated – linked to and supports integration of the whose as whole

I like this sentence as well…”the point here is that efficiency is neither the same as effectiveness, nor separate from it, but a subset of what’s needed for overall effectiveness”. The book is self published and is available from Tom’s website.

Mark Schenk About  Mark Schenk

Mark works globally with senior leadership teams to improve their ability to communicate clearly and memorably. He has been a Director of Anecdote since 2004 and helped the company grow into one of the world’s leading business storytelling consultancies. Connect with Mark on:


  1. I add resilience/adaptiveness… the ability to respond productively to changes in the environment.

  2. Mark Schenk says:

    Thanks Patrick. An important addition.

  3. Vincent says:

    I once ask (on ask metafilter) “what’s the difference between efficiency and effectiveness”. Here is one answer I got : “Effectiveness is comparing information from several dictionaries to determine the best answer. Efficiency is using AskMefites to do the work for you.”

  4. Jack Vinson says:

    I like to clearly differentiate between effectiveness and efficiency. I think of effectiveness as “doing the right thing,” whereas efficiency is “doing something well.” Focus on effectiveness first, then on reliability, then efficiency.
    p.s. Your TypeKey authorization is out of whack.

  5. Mark Schenk says:

    Hi Jack
    I posted Tom’s description because I have experienced the efficiency v effectiveness debate as being very vexed for very long. I found that thinking of efficiency as a subset of effectiveness resonated with me. It makes sense in my mental frameworks and I can use it to communicate the difference between the two concepts (IMHO).
    Your contrast between ‘doing the right thing’ and ‘doing something well’ has caused me to take stock. And on reflection I think about effectiveness as being both those things. I can’t get away from efficiency as having a more limited focus on resources (applying sufficient resources to get the job done, but no more).
    In writing this I am conscious of the assumptions underpinning my association of ‘efficiency’ with ‘resources’ and of our possible different interpretations of the word ‘well’ (from your phrase ‘doing things well’).

  6. Gleiby says:

    Here is my favorite acedote on misplace efficiency:
    “…He was also a longtime student of the military, and one day he told me a story. Years before, he said, a bright, forward-thinking German general divided his officers into four classes; the clever, the stupid, the industrious, and the lazy. The general believed that every officer possessed two of these qualities. The clever and lazy, for example, were suited for command (they’d figure out the easiest way to do a task); the clever and industrious were suited for high-level staff. The lazy and stupid, he maintained, were an unfortunate by-product of any system and could be slotted in somewhere; but the stupid and industrious were just too dangerous, and the general’s standing order was to have them removed from the military completely, the moment they were identified.”
    “About Face”, pp.347
    Hackworth, David H., Sherman, Julie. (1989). About Face. New York. Simon and Shuster.

Comments are closed.