Turbocharging Employee Engagement with the 80:20 Rule
Life isn’t even.
But strangely, much of it is predictably uneven, leading to what is commonly called the 80:20 rule where 80% of outputs often arise from 20% of inputs, known to mathematicians as a power law distribution.
I can see myriad examples of the 80:20 rule from where I am sitting: 20% of Terra Infirma’s clients bring in 80% of income, 20% of our YouTube videos deliver 80% of visitor views etc. The patterns are uncanny and also incredibly powerful as understanding the rule can lead to great leaps forward in performance whether in sustainability or quality or speed or whatever.
In the last two days, I’ve had meetings with three MegaCorps to discuss employee engagement. All three were struggling with how to engage very disparate cohorts of front-line employees given geographical, contractual and IT difficulties. While I was travelling to and from these sessions, I was working on my next book – on applying the 80:20 rule to sustainability – so the principle was at the forefront of my mind.
Probably the most useful thing I did for the companies was to challenge the underlying assumption that all employees needed to be engaged in sustainability on an equal basis. If you have limited resources (and who doesn’t?), it is clearly more effective to focus on employees whose decision making has biggest effect on the footprint of the company.
One company estimated that the mass of hard-to-reach front-line workers they wanted to engage only determined about 10% of its environmental impact, whereas a much smaller cohort of relatively easy-to-reach white collar workers determined the vast majority of the other 90% (probably a 90:1 rule in this case). The conversation then changed, with almost audible relief, on to how to effectively engage the latter.
This kind of thinking is heretical to the ‘mindfulness’ movement who want everybody to be at one with nature every minute of the day. But in my mind, the choice between ideological perfection and making rapid substantial change with targeted intervention is a very easy one to make.