The Twenty Percent Rule
By Jeffrey Morgan
About twenty percent of people are really good or pretty good at what they do. The other eighty percent are mediocre to poor. This rule unfortunately works across all professions – doctors, attorneys, bartenders, auto mechanics, IT people, grocery store clerks, etc. When I need a professional, especially a doctor or lawyer, I try to choose from those in the twenty percent. I really learned this lesson the hard way during my divorce. I only got the right attorney on the fifth try.
If you are a manager or supervisor, you are stuck with this reality.
What puts people in the top 20% or the bottom 80%? Talent, intelligence and aptitude are all part of the equation but these factors only partially account for great work output. Work ethic and attitude are the factors that really matter.
My parents and many teachers tried to teach me about work ethic in my youth but I didn’t really learn the lesson until I was in the army. Almost thirty years later I still remember my moment of work ethic epiphany. My platoon members and I were all in our Quonset hut at Camp Red Cloud in the Republic of Korea cleaning weapons and I clearly remember Sergeant C talking about work ethic. Always do the best job you can do regardless of whether it is cleaning weapons, cleaning the latrines or performing your mission in the field.
This was only a few days after he went on an epic rampage. He had been away for a few days and when he came back and took a look around, there were a few problems. Someone had left a broom out in the motor pool and someone from another platoon had borrowed a tire from one of our Hummers. There were a couple of other minor infractions. This triggered a screaming virtuoso performance in denigration and excoriation in the most impressively profanity filled reaming I have ever received. We all walked away from the 30 minute (seemed like hours) reaming thoroughly demoralized and totally ashamed. But it made us all better people. It was a lesson that has shaped my life ever since.
Sergeant C was trying to drag us all into the 20% and wouldn’t tolerate anyone in his platoon being part of the 80%. In the current climate of PC and positive reinforcement, Sergeant C’s management style probably wouldn’t be tolerated but it was certainly effective. Giving out gold stars for shoddy performance does no one any good.
If you are a manager, you are stuck with your own staff of 20% vs. 80%, but you can certainly influence those in the 80% to perform better. If Sergeant C could do it, so can you. Have a comment? Need help in improving the quality of output in your organization? Send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © Jeffrey Morgan 2016by