Leaders set high standards and refuse to tolerate mediocrity or poor performance.
Recently I was teaching a leadership course and the discussion migrated to the topic of moving out the 10% of the organization who need to go. Often times we have heard of the 90-10 rule. This rule postulates that 90% of the organization do their required tasks and assignments with little need for supervisory, managerial, or leadership interaction. Basically, they do as they are expected and motor on through life with little difficulty.
The remaining 10% seem to be exactly the opposite. They require 90% of the supervisor, manager, or leader’s time and they rarely do as expected, bringing unrest to the 90%, negatively impacting the mission, and if left unchecked, ultimately damaging the organization.
As I was listening to the discussion participants explain the pains they were experiencing in trying to adjust, train, and inform this small group of employees, it became clear to me that as society has advanced, human resource rules have expanded, and we assign more levels of protection to our many classes of human resource, we have pushed our supervisors, managers, leaders, and organizations into a square corner of human performance management.
A square corner as I am describing it, is one that is very difficult to advance through to a positive conclusion. In many cases, once in this position the leader feels stuck, frustrated, and unable to accomplish the needed action that will produce the necessary result for the people and the organization (the real work of a leader).
Eventually, the conversation turned to me, the senior leader with vast experience and expected pearls of wisdom, to provide the specific actions to be taken to get the leader from the square corner and onward to mission accomplishment.
I explained that over the years, I have chosen to believe in my homegrown leadership theory of the 10%. I believe that 10% of an organization might want to escape the work required in doing their jobs and I believe that 10% of an organization will be more negative than others would see as normal. I have also found that the 10% who are not overly engaged in their work tend to be the same 10% who are negative. Maybe you have witnessed this same phenomenon in your leadership journey?
I have made it my leadership challenge to reduce the effect of the 10% on the organization. I try to do this by engaging them or their comments head-on. This is not easy stuff; you might want to do as comedian Brad Stine says and “put a helmet on” for this part of leadership work!
When I was a worker and supervisor, I made sure the 10% were always busy. I developed the phrase, “busy is good” as a response when I would ask them how they are doing to counter their typical reply of “I am busy.” If they were being negative, I engaged their negativism with the reality of the positive. When an event was coming and someone chose the negative road to try and erode it, I would ask them if they had supported a similar event in the past and then I worked to highlight the positives and usually it became clear to us all that they were just being negative without real reason. I also asked them to attend with me and more times than naught, they enjoyed it and I knew I had helped to reduce the 10%.
I explained the value of setting the standards and holding everyone accountable to them. We discussed the critical need for continuous feedback, positive and negative, and we talked about the leader’s responsibility for effective documentation for the sake of the worker and the supervisor.
Leaders need to have a ruthless commitment to solving relational conflict regardless of how bad it feels
Often times, organizations have detailed human resource policies to be followed when dealing with the 10% of the organization in an effort to restore the employee to full value and a positive outcome for both employee and organization.
I insured my young charges knew that they were responsible to understand these policies and follow them to the letter. Once followed, the policies should result in the removal of the problem, the restoration of the employee, or the severing of the relationship with employee and organization.
“If you want things to be different, perhaps the answer is to become different yourself.”
Norman Vincent Peale
Too often, the required work is time-consuming, laborious, and involves great stress on both sides of the situation. If the goal of the leader is to improve performance, improve employee capability, and ultimately improve the workplace and organization, this is time well spent. Too often, we are inclined to push the “10%er” aside and make things happen without them. This result is a win-lose; employee wins and organization loses. As quality leaders, we cannot permit this outcome and we must stay engaged in the process until completed with a result of win-win.
It seems that the 10% like who they are and the effect they have on others. Quality leaders believe in the 90% of the organization, they are committed to the 90% and they stay engaged in the requisite processes growing their percentage towards 100% for the person, the workforce, and the growth and success of the organization.