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The 10/80/10 Rule

Written by: Craig Twombly
Published: July 2010

Everyday inside the workplace leaders are tasked and traditionally trained to solve problems. Inside those same organizations the daily activities of manager’s and leader’s success is often based on how well they can execute and solve those problems. The problems leaders face can be focused around production, logistics, and customer service. The topic that will inevitably end up being discussed is the employee who is challenging to the team and the organization.

As a corporate restaurant manager I had the opportunity to work in a restaurant in New Jersey. During the transition period into the restaurant, I had an opportunity to sit down with many employees and discuss how they felt about the restaurant and management team they worked for, what they would like to see, and what they needed to be successful. During the second day, I had the overwhelming feeling that there were serious issues inside the restaurant. I heard many comments such as, “morale is bad and no one did their job” and so on. Once I completed the transition, I focused on fixing the morale issue. As a leader I saw it as a glaring issue that needed attention. Over the next several months, it seemed that no matter what I did morale was still a challenge. As I focused on the complaints and concerns of the employees it appeared that the morale became worse not better.

We facilitate a leadership process called the 10/80/10 Model, which is a basic percentage breakdown of how employees behave/produce/get along in any organization.

The Negative 10%
On the left had side of the image above you have the bottom 10% in almost every organization. This group of employees are folks who do not meet their company’s or leadership’s standards. These employees are disruptive to the rest of the organization with negative comments or behave not in line with the organization’s vision and mission. These are the folks who get lots of “negative” attention.

The Middle 80%
The 80% in the middle represents the masses. These are the people that come to work every day doing their job. These employees come to work every day on time and you seldom hear complaints or issues. This group will put in a hard day’s work and, from my own past experience, are sometimes the folks that get the least attention from their bosses.

The positive 10%
On the right side of the clipart you have the positive 10%. These employees will do whatever and whenever you need it to be done. This group of employees can be counted on to do whatever it takes to be personally successful while doing what’s best for their organization. These are the folks that other employees in the organization rely on for their success.

In the restaurant I found myself focusing on the negative 10% as a problem that needed to be fixed. Although any organization needs to be aware of the negative 10%, I found that by focusing solely on them I shifted the balance of the team.

In a recent article around the value of appreciation and participation in the workplace, employees often speak of the importance of feeling appreciated and participating in the work and decisions involved with their work as a way to motivate and encourage them. I had focused all my energy around the negative 10% and the other 90% shared thoughts and feelings that “those” people were getting all the attention, even though most were negative. Although this may happen from a basic or organic level, we focus on the negative and sometimes forget about the good folks who do it right. By simply shifting the focus to the more positive groups, I could have saved myself a lot of frustration and struggles in the workplace.

Craig Twombly

Craig Twombly

Craig is the primary facilitator at Priority Learning, he is responsible for conducting an array of leadership series offered and consulting assignments from communications to team development in organizations ranging from the service industries to finance, manufacturing and more. Having extensive experience at balancing the business needs with the wants and desires of people are Craig's strongest assets.