The 4 Root Causes of Poor Effectiveness and Efficiency in Service and & Knowledge-Work Organisations (S&KWO)

The pervasiveness of these issues gives rise to the following 4 solutions that address these underlying root causes.
23 March 2022 by
The 4 Root Causes of Poor Effectiveness and Efficiency in Service and & Knowledge-Work Organisations (S&KWO)
Expertivity Technologies , Alex McDonnell


Work teams or front-line teams (to distinguish them from project teams) are responsible for executing the day-to-day transactions of the organisation and are usually found at the lowest level of the organisation chart but at the front line of service delivery. Work teams are the bedrock on which business processes are built and as processes are “the how” by which value is created and delivered to stakeholders, the operational capabilities of these teams to a) manage their work effectively and efficiently and b) collaborate across end-to-end processes, will determine the operational performance of the function/department they are in and ultimately, the whole business/organisation.  If you ask them, the feedback from staff will be that there are systemically low levels of effectiveness and efficiency in their organisation.

Root Cause #1:  Identify the Important Reasons Why Managers Should Bother?

The solutions to poor effectiveness and efficiency in S&KWO are reasonably well known but not easy to implement given the complexity of these organisations. The ROI on improving these metrics is substantial as the global evidence indicates that 80% of S&KWO work is nonvalue-added and hence, the poor levels of effectiveness and efficiency. What’s more, frontier firms or best practice firms are 50% more productive than those who fail to adopt best practices (see graphic above). The evidence available to S&KWO from staff feedback and the Expertivity programmes support these findings and therefore, one of the most important issues for S&KWO to resolve is, are there sufficiently strong motives in place at all levels in S&KWO to bother overcoming the barriers and make the investments in time and effort required to dramatically and then continuously improve these key metrics.

The most common reason cited as to why organisations don’t bother, despite the very high ROI and overall benefits available, is that it’s not possible to easily measure and/or make any big improvements in  these metrics due to the complexity of the organisations and the problems they are trying to solve. One of the reasons why we like doing pilot programmes is to demonstrate that this is not true, and this is validated by the differences in productivity found between frontier (best practice) and laggard firms. However, systemically addressing these problems does require the serious commitment of the senior leadership and management teams to address the root causes of these issues.

This is the domain of the Senior Leadership Team

Root Cause #2:  Deploying a Structured and Integrated System for Managing Day to Day Work

Most S&KWO remain trapped in old style, craft worker time bubbles with each person doing things in their own way. Had those work practices been maintained in other sectors, we’d still be buying hand-built cars and furniture made by master craftsmen. While there is a place for such craftmanship, it doesn’t work for activities where high productivity is necessary to make them economically viable and/or competitive. The pilot programmes we use in Expertivity are part of a suite of programmes that together constitute a structured and integrated system for managing day to day work and optimising a team’s effectives and efficiency. The evidence from these programmes alone shows that a 20 - 40% improvement in productivity can easily be achieved in most teams. However the sustainment of these achievements will be poor unless root cause number 1 is addressed.

This is the domain of the Team Manager/ Team Leader.

Root Cause #3:  Deploying a System and Culture of Continuous and Discontinuous Improvement

The very complexity that people use as a reason for not solving the service productivity problems lies at the heart of why S&KWO organisations need to develop a system and culture of ongoing improvement. It’s generally accepted that the modern world is volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA). Because traditional management methods were designed for an older, more stable world where certainty was greater and volatility temporary, modern managers have found that traditional management methods are no longer fit for purpose. Unfortunately this has led to the abandonment rather than the adaption of some management methods such as planning, scheduling, forecasting, optimising, improving etc. This leads to weary sighs of resignation from managers that “it takes what it takes to get things done”, a misunderstanding that high effort equates to high performance, a tolerance for low performance because it’s not properly measured, ad-hoc interventions, a reactive style of management and a firefighting/heroic approach to problem solving.

This is the domain of Senior Management

Root Cause #4:  Prioritising Horizontal (E2E Processes) Performance Over Vertical Performance

Addressing root cause 2 will address most of the team-based poor effectiveness and efficiency but by far the bigger and more systemic issues impacting effectiveness and efficiency arise from how well or poorly organisations manage the inter-team hand-offs required to make end-to-end processes work well. To address this issue, organisations need to invest in developing the team-based capabilities mentioned in root cause 2 and deploy process ownership, management, and improvement structures.  

This is the domain of both Senior Managers (Process Ownership and Management) and Mid-Level Managers (Process Improvement)


Addressing any one of these issues can improve performance in the short term but all four need to be in place to develop and integrated system of management that differentiates the frontier/best practice firms from their laggard competitors. Even internal services, that do not compete openly in the market, will always be vulnerable to the challenges of 3rd party service providers when there is an unhealthy lack of commercial awareness in their organisation.     

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The 4 Root Causes of Poor Effectiveness and Efficiency in Service and & Knowledge-Work Organisations (S&KWO)
Expertivity Technologies , Alex McDonnell 23 March 2022
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