We are a nation of laws. We have laws and rules to live by. Without them we would have chaos and possibly even anarchy. They provide guidelines for how we should live and act. They also provide punishment for not abiding by them.
Laws are rules that we determine we as a society need to live and abide by.
There are other items that are not official laws, but are put in place to describe why things are the way they are.
For example there are laws to live by. These are guidelines for how we should conduct ourselves in dealing with others. They include things such as the “Golden Rule”. If we violate these rules or laws we are not subject to legal remedies. But, we may have a difficult time dealing with others and have few or no friends. A penalty is paid, but it is of our own doing.
Well run and successful companies also have guidelines that they live by.
They have various names:
- Code of Conduct
In all instances, they establish the rules of conduct within an organization. They outline the responsibilities of both the employees and employers. Company policies and procedures are in place to protect the rights of workers. They also protect the business interests of the employers.
Without these, an anything goes situation could exist. If an employee does something wrong and there is no rule in place about this, it puts the employer in a difficult position. Without a guideline for proper behavior and action, it is difficult to penalize or fire a person. Even if that happens, a lawsuit could ensue. The person involved could claim that they were never warned that their action was wrong or inappropriate.
Through my educational studies and professional experiences, I came across two rules or laws that have influenced how I think and act.
These are also not legally binding. But, they help me and many others to understand how business and the people we deal with act. By acknowledging and working with these we can successfully navigate our daily activities.
The first is Pareto’s law.
Vilfredo Pareto, was an Italian economist and sociologist. He is known for his application of mathematics to economic analysis. His first work was Cours d’économie politique. It included his famous but much-criticized law of income distribution. It is a mathematical formulation in which he attempted to prove that the distribution of incomes and wealth in society is not random. Instead, a consistent pattern appears throughout history. This occurs, in all parts of the world and in all societies.
His theory was that 20% of the populace held 80% of the wealth. If that was all taken away and everyone started at zero, in time, 20% would eventually hold 80% once again. This theory is now used in many instances and is known as the 80 – 20 rule.
In business, this law contends that 80% of all business conducted is due to 20% of a company’s customers.
Other outcomes of the law are that:
· 20% of our activities yield 80% of the results we achieve.
· 80% of the problems we experience are caused by 20% of bad or poor business practices.
· 80% of profits come from 20% of our business transactions.
After learning about Pareto’s law, I began to observe its implications in my business dealings. I saw firsthand how 80% of the problems businesses encountered were due to 20% of the actions they took. If focused on and corrected, they would see significant improvements in productivity, efficiency and profitability.
I became and continue to be an advocate of Pareto’s law. It has so many applications to business and life in general. I have utilized it many times to find the 20% of the key causes of problems that my clients are experiencing. Too often they and many others are focusing on the wrong things. They work on items that don’t matter and even when corrected have little impact on what they are trying to achieve.
The hardest part of convincing someone what is wrong is that they have already established a bias or preconceived idea of the root cause. They are convinced that if they resolve it all will be well. Pareto’s Law doesn’t give guidance on how to convince them otherwise. That requires another tool set to make that happen. But it is my guiding principle and has established in me how I will act. It is a powerful concept that works.
The second law that has had a profound effect on how I think and act is the 20 – 60 -20 rule This framework was introduced by Dr. Rod Napier many years ago. It is a helpful way to look at organizational change and shows how team leaders can use the thinking behind it in managing their teams.
The framework assumes that 20% of people in most organizations are “positives”.
They are the people who have an optimistic view of things. They are great team players. They generally work hard in service of the organization’s mission and goals. They are your “stars”.
The bottom 20% are the “negatives.
This has everything to do with attitude. These individuals tend to be cynical, pessimistic and complain alot. They want to be left alone and do their job. They resist change and are not team players. They are not star performers and probably never will be. In some instances they are even deadwood. The organization might be better off without them.
That leaves the 60% or middle ground group.
They are the majority in any company or organization. They are for the most part good workers and have a decent attitude. They are willing to try new concepts, but aren’t the first to do so. They are the ones to wait and see:
· How the new concepts practiced by the top 20% are working out.
· How much management pushes them to try new things.
· What the reward is for how they perform. If there are rewards for advancing, they will buy in. If there aren’t or the bottom 20% get rewards while not participating, they will act accordingly.
When companies want to make improvements, it is that middle 60% they need to spend time with. They are the ones that can make a difference in success or failure. The top 20% will respond and do a great job. Unless, at some point they feel that others are getting the same reward they are, while doing little or nothing. They can then drop into the 60% category and also take a wait and see attitude.
The idea is to move the middle 60% closer to the top 20%. Chances are they will not become stars. But, their performance can and will improve to the betterment of the company.
Too often, an inordinate amount of attention is paid to the bottom 20%.
In an attempt to get them to get on board, managers spend time with them with little or no results. In doing so, they send out the wrong message that bad behavior will get rewarded. Remember the “Hawthorne Effect”. The studies showed that people will respond to attention more than anything else.
By spending time with the upper 20% and middle 60%, there is a lot to be gained. Dealing with the bottom 20% should be nothing more than to tolerate them and their attitudes. If they become a real detriment, then they should be fired. That sends a powerful message that such behavior will not be tolerated.
Knowing about this has influenced how I deal with client personnel. Early in my career, I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to work with and convince the bottom 20%. I was determined that with the right approach and message I could get through to them.
After much frustration, reading about this reality, and getting advice from other more experienced managers, I came to the realization that I was wasting my time. And, I was ignoring Pareto’s law about where to spend time to get the most and best results.
I now share these thoughts with the many clients I have and will work with. I want them to know that the group they need to influence is the middle 60%. If they do so, they will be successful. If not, they will suffer the consequences of turning them to the “dark side”.
I have written about encouragement and how important that is in motivating people to succeed. So the question arises, ‘Am I contradicting myself, by advocating that the bottom 20% should ignored or not encouraged? I would say. ‘No, this is not a contradiction’.
We all have the same amount of time to do things. No matter who you are or what you do, you have 168 hours a week at your disposal. How you spend it is up to you. If you spend it wisely, you can accomplish great things. Spend it poorly and you will struggle to get anything done.
There are some people you will never get through to. Miracles do happen. But you are not in the miracle business. That for others to do. As I have learned, you need to place your bets on the surer thing. So not spending much time is not contradictory to encouragement. They are adults that can see for themselves what is expected. If they choose not to, so be it.
A final law that influences me is something I have concocted myself. I am sure that someone has discovered this as well. It is said that if you develop something, someone on the other side of the world has also thought of and is practicing it as well. I haven’t heard about it so I take credit for it.
The final law is what I call ‘The Theory of One’.
In essence, it states that if we are not aware of circumstances, we can be coerced into agreeing to something that we never intended to.
The theory goes like this….
We agree to complete a project in 30 days. A day or so into our work, the client comes and says that this is really important. If we could reduce the duration by a day that would help them immensely. After all, it is only a day! So we agree. It makes the client happy and that is what we want.
In another day or so, the client comes back and asks for another reduction. Again, it is only a day so it is not a big deal. Once again we say ‘Ok’. After happening a few more times, we have now agreed to a 20% reduction in project time and now we are scrambling. Because we agreed to these small, but many reductions, we have now bought into a situation. It is not what we originally agreed to. We have been “oned “ into a bad spot.
I have seen this happen many times. Once I realized that I was falling into the trap, I stopped agreeing to small, but ongoing changes. Now, when asked the first time I ask what the client really wants. I ask them to put all the cards on the table. If it makes sense, then I agree. If not, then I hold fast. This saves me a lot of anxiety about figuring out how to meet new demands after being “oned to death”.
These simple, but powerful laws and rules are what influence how I think and act.
How and where I spend my time is important to me. I hate wasting the precious minutes, days, and years on this earth by spending them on things and people that will not move the objectives or goals ahead. Time lost can never be recovered. You can make up for errors, but that will only cost you more time to do so. If spent wisely at first, you can accomplish so much more.
I try my best to not agree to something by being “oned “ to death. I do have a soft spot for my friends and family and may relent on a personal basis. But in business, I fight to make sure this does not happen. I have control over what I do and don’t do, what I agree to and not.
There are many laws that we could and should live by. These three are ones that have had a profound influence on me on how I think, act and respond to others. You should add these to your repertoire as well. When you do, you will be better for it.