In a previous post (Part 2…) I established, to my own satisfaction, that efficiency is working productively with minimum wasted effort or expense, or  more technically the ratio of the output to the input of any system.  And in the public sector inputs are mainly money (yours), staff, buildings, IT equipment and materials while outputs are usually services (occasionally products). 

So simple it’s almost a no-brainer – in principle.

Who would positively want to waste effort or expense?  For a typical output – say, repairing a pot hole in the road – who wants to

  •  use more staff time than necessary?
  • waste materials?
  • travel the long way round to the site of the repair?
  • take two trucks when one would do?

And yet, throughout the economy organisations do these sorts of thing all the time.  Even worse, the people in charge often don’t or can’t see the problem.

PhDs have been written about why.  Here’s my list of some of the more important reasons:

  • senior people are focussed on the big picture, strategic issues of policy.  They often don’t see or think about the million small things that together can make their organisation more efficient
  • despite almost universal lip service to the mantra “staff are our most important asset” many still think they know best, certainly better than the people who actually do the work
  • they wrestle with the public sector conundrum of never ending demand for more/better services and static or declining resources
  • they don’t always see how things are linked together.  You can be super-efficient at repairing a pot hole but what about arranging things so there are fewer pot holes in the first place?

There’s more of course, but these are fundamental.  I’ll look at each one in turn in future posts