The Losses of Choosing Efficiency over Excellence

There are people who can both be efficient and excellent in all things. I’m not one of those people.

For the rest of us, either efficiency or excellence becomes the leading edge by which you accomplish work, and the other, well, it lags behind.

My wiring has me leaning toward efficiency. I can’t help but think about how to make things efficient. Although I’ve never worked in the food industry, I’m always designing ways in my head for food industry workers to improve their efficiency (I rarely actually tell them my ideas, but when I do, my wife, with both efficiency and excellence, gives me the evil eye).

As leaders in the church, we want excellence in our pursuit of glorifying God. But we want to do that being efficient with the resources of people, time, and money God has given us to do the work. The resources we have are limited, and we want them to go as far as possible.

We want both excellence and efficiency, but usually one or the other is the clear winner. One tends to take precedent over the other (intentionally or unintentionally).

Which way do you lean?

There’s a chance you’ve never considered this. There’s a chance you don’t know which your go-to pursuit is. In fact, to get realistic picture of your work habits you might have to ask someone else (because in our own minds, we tend to think we do both really well).

It’s not rocket science, but I’ve realized recently that in my role, for the sake of organization efficiency, I’m settling for less than excellence in some areas.

That’s not always bad. Not all things can be excellent. But, as leaders, we should first count the cost. We need to knowingly understand the trade-offs between efficiency and excellence.

A leader’s desire for efficiency that puts blinders on for anything but easier replication, better alignment of processes, and hacks to save dollars and time can have collateral damage to the areas they lead.

My point isn’t to jettison all efficient means, but rather, to be a self-aware leader who recognizes what efficiency might be costing you in excellence.

There are times you can choose both and when you can, do both. But it’s very hard, for any amount of time, to do things with high levels of excellence and high levels of efficiency.

Many of you, like me, have a tendency toward efficiency, so I thought I’d speak to the trade-off of choosing efficiency over excellence.

Here are four things you risk losing out on when your go-to response is efficiency:

  1. The best idea

You still may arrive at the “good” and “better” ideas, but probably not the “best” idea. Most “best” ideas need time to incubate. And incubation takes time. And that time may feel inefficient.

  1. The best people (at least some of them)

A lot of great employee contributors are not efficient people by nature. And if in all realms of work, efficiency is forced upon them, they’ll leave…Or at least their best work will leave. If they’re disgruntled, they’re not going to be able to provide your organization their best work. You’ve got to provide some space for them to work with excellence, which may not be efficient.

  1. Work you’re proud of

Sometimes 80% is enough. Many times it becomes poor stewardship to push something all the way to 100% in your planning and preparedness. But there are other times a project needs your best effort. It needs the effort that equates to work you’re proud of. A leader needs to discern when it’s time for “make us proud” work, and when it’s okay for “that’ll do” work.

  1. Output which is sustainable

Those we lead and employ are not meant to keep up break-neck speeds of efficiency. There’s peak loading times, and people can rise to the occasion for these short time frames. But many times, leaders see people’s output when they’re running on all cylinders, and assume they can keep up that pace. But most people can’t. It’s not sustainable.

Further, even if they can sustain such high productivity, there’s another trade-off – that person can become unhealthy. And if they’re unhealthy, in some way, they’ll find a coping mechanism. And many times, their preferred coping methods are not healthy ones. As leader, we have to be mindful and watchful we don’t set up those we lead to pursue such paths.


While I didn’t unpack it here, I also realize seeking excellence in all things has trade-offs as well. And I’ll likely deal with that in a future post. In the meantime, make sure you understand the trade-offs when you seek efficiency too much. Efficiency gets us farther, faster. But you can pass up a lot of people and promising ideas in a single-mindedness efficiency pursuit.

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