The Forgotten 70%

Jack Welch, the legendary CEO of General Electric had an interesting philosophy regarding employees.  He believed that each year, you should take the lowest 10% of the performers in the organization and replace them.  He thought this strategy would bring the highest performers to GE, while weeding out the weaker ones. 

I know of organizations that have 10% of their staff that they classify as “VIPs”.  They feel these people bring high return to the organization and will spend lots of time, money, and resources in developing them. This group will receive the most opportunities and rewards.  Often they do bring in a lot of return to the company.  They are the Peyton Mannings and Tom Bradys of the corporate world.

 I also know of some companies that have 10% of the employees as constantly unhappy.  These folks are professional bellyachers and due to a tight labor market or the uncertainty of obtaining and training another employee, they work to keep them on staff and “quiet”. 

So if your company is like many others, you may have 10% of the staff you need to replace, 10% that are always unhappy no matter what you do, and 10% absolute stars.  It is easy to see how these 30% of employees can consume 100% of the leaders’ time.  But what about the remaining 70%?

If all of your staff has contact with clients, there is a 7 out of 10 chance the remaining 70% will be the ones that are working with the member or customer.  With all the time spent on the stars and problems, the forgotten majority are the ones that put the face on the organization.  A lack of any focus on them often can lead to discouragement and may lead to turnover.  It also can overlook people who are in the 70% but who can turn out to be an absolute star.  They also can actually enhance the performance of the stars.  After all, Peyton is much more effective if the offensive line gives him 7 seconds to decide where to throw the ball.

The question becomes, what do we do to develop our staff to the fullest?  The first step for the leader is to treat each person as if they are (whether they are or not) a “10”.  If you have an employee who is a 5 and you treat them like a 5, they will never rise above that level in your organization.  Each follower deserves the very best from the leader.  Treating people the way you want them to be will help elevate them to that level.

Next, as much as possible, work to minimize the bad attitudes in the organization.  These people are cancerous, and can spread throughout the group to ruin even the best folk.  Find people who will seek to find solutions to the problems and take initiative and ownership.  You want everyone to have the attitude of Truett Cathy, founder of Chick-fil-A, “If it’s meant to be, it’s up to me.”

For those who are not cutting the mustard, perhaps the problem is they have great value to the organization but are in the wrong seat on the bus.  A change of position that plays to their strengths may enhance their performance.  Also, treating these folks like they can be will also help them to grow. 

Development is a long term process and it begins with discovering each person’s dreams and desires. Former Commander Michael Abrashoff, took the worst performing ship in the US Navy to one of the best.  One of the first things he did was to personally meet with each of the 3,500 sailors and find out where they were from, why they joined the navy, and what their future goals were.  This opened up a dialogue where they became free to share problems about the ship that Abershoff was able to implement positive changes.  Without starting the relationship, none of this would have happened.  My wife sums this up when she says, “People don’t care what you know, until they know that you care.”

This relational leadership also requires that you lead everyone differently; coming down to their level.  The strategies that are used to lead one person may not work on a different co-worker.  As this happens, you begin to help them know themselves more and to develop in ways they never thought were possible. 

As you lead all your staff instead of the forgotten 70%, you will begin to find some that you never expected rise to levels of leadership, themselves, and begin to take your organization to new heights.