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The 90/10 Leader

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For those of you who haven’t heard of him, Jeffrey A. Fox is a management and executive consultant, and a great leadership author. I enjoy reading his books for a number of reasons, some of which are because he succinctly gets to the core point of what he’s saying. Each chapter is a precious nugget of richness, solid in truth and invaluable to those yearning to grow.

While not his latest book, “How To Be A Great Boss” is a read that I have thoroughly enjoyed every page of the way. One of the chapters hits the nail on the head about where your time should be spent among your people. It’s entitled “Spend 90% of Your Time With Your Best People”.

It seems that so much of leaders’ time that they spend on their staff is consumed with the so-called “high maintenance” employees. They are the ones that literally cost the company precious time and money due to their lack of performance, disruptive behavior, or both. A few years back I reported to a C-level executive who confided in me that 80% of their time was lost constantly on 20% of their “problem children”. While they didn’t know how to swing that around (and couldn’t see how they themselves had created this culture that they were drowning in), I used my personal experience to shed some light and help them understand what Jeffrey Fox layed out for the rest of us.

Years ago I knew a manager who was charged with creating a new department for an entertainment company. This department was an offshoot of an existing one, yet it was to run co-dependently at first then become self-sufficient within 60 days. It was an on-the-fly task that was literally dumped on him; part of his benefit package for being promoted.

The staff that he and his supervisory team were given were the employees that none of the other supervisors wanted to invest time in. They were deemed “unproductive” and by jettisoning them to this new area, they were relieved of any further obligation to work with these employees. So this manager had a staff of about 50 untrained and unmotivated employees to start a department with.

He immediately started to recognize three types of employees: those that worked hard no matter what, those that worked well but not always consistent, and those that were never motivated and failed to do the job at all. Unconsciously, he started investing the bulk of his time with the hard workers, as he needed them to anchor the day to day tasks. He then spend most of the rest of his time with the second group, realizing that they had potential but were never properly trained or shown they had value. He did spend time with the unmotivated group, mostly in corrective action, but never let them consume his valuable time.

Well, a peculiar trend started to happen in this manager’s new department. He noticed that the hard workers dug in and worked harder, and set a great attitude and pace for the entire team. He then saw that the middle group felt needed because they were given attention finally, and, seeing the first group energized, started to perform on a pace close to the hard workers. But what the manager saw in the unmotivated group literally shocked him. He noted that many of these workers, previously deemed problematic, started to perk up and step up their game. Their attitude and performance improved remarkably. When asked, they generally said that they had never been a part of such a team before, and didn’t want to be left out, or left behind. Granted, there were a few dissenters that needed to be groomed out, but the vast majority clicked with the team dynamic and their first year brought incredible sales success and profitability that they did not forecast they would attain for at least 3 years.

By focusing on your 90%, Fox states, you invest in the biggest return in your company. If you invested in those underperforming stocks, you would most certainly look for better returns in higher potential stocks. Why should it be any different with your staff? Invest where it counts, and you’ll be surprised at the results. And so will your team.

(image: joshuapitka.com)

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