Pay attention to the top 20% of your…


Recently, I heard Jack Welch, former head of GE,  talking about his policy of Differentiation. Basically, his philosophy is that organizations need to have reviews (6 months or a year), where they differentiate their staff by the top 20%, the 70% core, and the bottom 10%.

With the top 20% (your stars), you need to appreciate them and reward them for their excellent work.

With the core 70%,  you need to encourage them and give them specific guidance on what they can do to, to improve their performance.

With the bottom 10%, you need to move them on from your company.  They are not a good fit. They know it and you do as well.

Jack Welch, while he was the head of GE took a lot of flack for this policy, but even now, he swears to its effectiveness. He will readily admit that it might not be a perfect system, but he does not know of anything better.

Last night,  I was at a gathering of fellow Christians and we were talking about how the church is operating.  One particular person said something to the affect of “well,  it’s that old 80/20 principle–you know, where 80% of the work is done by 20% of the people.”

That’s interesting.   The same 20% number was mentioned in two different scenarios.

So, it makes me wonder, leaders, how much attention are you giving to your top 20%, whether paid staff or volunteers ?  When is the last time you took the time to identify who your best workers are?  When is the last time you recognized their outstanding efforts? When is the last time you rewarded these top 20% (or so) for their efforts?

Lastly, here are some additional thoughts related to this subject that come to mind?

  • I know of a vice-president at a company who I told I appreciated all that she did —she got quiet when I told her that and she said that no one ever tells me anything like that (I could sense her big sense of under-appreciation)
  • I know of someone who would be in the top 20% of church volunteers (as far as work being done for the church) who was continually under-appreciated at the church and also felt that limitation of usefulness and being needed.  People like this will only take too much before they move on.
  • I know of another person  who kept getting more and more work piled on his desk because his superiors knew he did good work and that he would get things done on time.  Mind you, they failed to show this person much appreciation for the long hours he put in.  They also failed to go out of their way or make any efforts at rewarding him for his over the top extra effort.  This person’s longevity at this company will not be much longer.
  • I know of another person in a non-profit who was recognized by his boss for his going far and above what his job responsibility called for.    The boss saw not only the hours this person put in, but also how much this person produced and the employee was given numerous financial perks.  Do you think this employee felt satisfied, appreciated, and motivated to do even better at his work?  Definitely.
  • as a side benefit of keeping an eye on your best workers, staff, and volunteers, you will also notice points of concern when they might be doing too much.  The last thing you want is for your best staff to get burnt out.  As a leader, you need to exercise your leadership and recognize when someone is nearing overload.  If you don’t give them some relief, you will lose them either to another job (where the work load is not as intense), or to physical issues coming because of the burdens of the job. Either way, it’s a problem.  You as a leader have the opportunity to diffuse it, but you can do that only as you are attentive to what your best workers are going through
  • There are many reasons why the best staff,  work as hard as they do. The point is, if these top performers are not recognized for their efforts and rewarded, they will go elsewhere.  They are too valuable and there are too many places where they can have a more satisfying experience.  Businesses and churches that neglect their best will suffer for it when their best leave.
  • For-profit businesses and non-profit organizations have different structures regarding what kind of perks can be given those who have earned it.  Non-profits will be limited, probably more-so than for-profit businesses, but my suggestion for you and your leadership team would be to huddle up and have an honest discussion about who your best are and what you can do to reward them (beyond your verbal appreciation, which goes a long way and is done too rarely by most organizations).  Identify your best. Recognize them. Reward them.

One thought on “Pay attention to the top 20% of your…

  1. Pingback: Revisiting the top 20% – this time a John Maxwell thought | Foundations - Life Coaching

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