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The Mental Strength Coach
by Andrei Jablokow, Ph.D. '84, '87

Understanding Effectiveness
November 2013

If you are looking to advance in your career, it's particularly important to consider effectiveness as a key metric. Just going to your job and putting in the time isn't going to get you anywhere (unless you work at some place that has seniority as part of the advancement program). There is so much distraction and interruption in most people's day that it's difficult to get anything done. How many people put in the time and 'work hard all day' and still get nothing done?

There is only one realistic and unambiguous definition of effectiveness. Effectiveness is the extent to which someone achieves the output requirements of their position. The measure is defined in terms of output, not so much on what that person does.

Effectiveness is not a quality or a personality that is based on the situation. It has nothing to do with traits or character. It has entirely to do with performance. If you want to move ahead you have to think more about performance than personality. It's not what you do, it's what you achieve.

Consider your personal diet or fitness routine. You may be 'eating right' and 'working out' every day. That's great! So what? When is the last time the number on the scale, the 'fat meter', or the weight on the barbell changed in your favor? If it hasn't improved in three months, something is not working and it's time to make a change. Your health regimen is only effective to the degree to which you are getting stronger and leaner. Going through the motions isn't enough.

It's the same at work. You can work all day and still get nowhere, for years. You are already busy, and you may accomplish several tasks each day (e.g., email, meetings, conference calls, 'research' on the internet, return phone calls, clean up your space, 'manage' your calendar, update spreadsheet reports, etc.). You're probably tired and stressed-out too, not so much because of the drama at work (that's just comic relief) but, more so because you didn't achieve anything.

There are at least three aspects of effectiveness that need to be considered:

  • Position Description: Most job descriptions are vague and are written in terms of their input and behavior requirements (maintains, organizes, plans, researches, develops, trains, etc.) or the placement of the job in the organization (reports to, approves, coordinates, etc.). You can't tell when you are actually getting anything done because there is no mention of effectiveness or output.

  • Efficiency: It's the ratio of input to output. They can both be low and still have a great ratio. You can work hard all day at being efficient and not achieve any output.

  • Your World View: Your personal approach impacts whether or not you feel that you were effective. Perhaps thinking and improving details, or maintaining social order, or making a big impression seems like effectiveness to you. While you need to feel inside that you are doing a good job, these hidden things can lead to poor decisions, and may have little to do with effectiveness in creating more output.

Much of the problem stems from a lack of clarity on exactly how effectiveness is going to be measured.  Ask your supervisor how they will know if you are effective at your job. Don't let them give you a vague answer or your annual performance review will feel awful to you.

When you get clear on what effectiveness looks like, all the other things you do in a day that don't matter can fall away. Don't do anything unless you know why you are doing it. When you are effective, you will have more time to do what you have to do.