I have seen many applications of the “80-20 principle” or “pareto principle” in business writings, but I am struck anew by how much the same principle impacts workplace performance as well as job satisfaction. Let me explain.
The 80-20 rule simply states that “80 percent of the outcome is determined by 20 percent of the causes.” Think about how your performance at work has been rated over the past few years, do you see it? Okay, follow me on this journey. Say you are a hardworking employee putting in many hours on end, handling multiple projects – sound like you? At the end of the day, you arrive at your performance meeting, and you are thinking, “My supervisor dare not have anything negative to say about my accomplishments.” Allow me to paint two scenarios below:
Your supervisor says you haven’t done anything spectacular; it has been business as usual. Suddenly your entire year flashes before your eyes, and you finally remember to shut your mouth that is unwittingly hanging open.
You get praised…and your supervisor or management rewards you for something which, in your opinion, was nothing at all compared to your contributions that year. They make such a big deal about it and you are quite surprised, because in the past you had greater accomplishments which you are more proud of than what is currently being recognized. But you choose to go with the flow whilst mentally shaking your head.
What happened here? In scenario 1, you probably spent all year working hard, very hard on the 80 percent. All the things which must be done. You are probably efficient, and management has gotten used to your efficiency, so you need something more to shock – no I mean amaze them. However, in your bid to keep things going like clockwork, you somehow ignore the wow factor. The 20 percent that drives 80 percent of your performance outcome.
It is totally human nature to get used to things quickly and watch the novelty fade. Everyone is constantly on the lookout for the next best thing. It’s the same concept at work. People who keep the well-oiled machine going without the fireworks become like good old furniture. Dependable, but not rewarded.
In scenario 2, in addition to being yourself and doing what you do best, you caught the eye of someone who was impressed! Your wow factor. Although you didn’t see that as your best work yet, the person who saw it mattered and you were rewarded.
Let’s go back to your 80 for a moment. It probably is what you are great at. You do it with such ease and it is your comfort zone. If you have any joy in what you do at all, it probably comes from your 80. Because it keeps you happy, you expect everyone to see it and recognize your awesomeness, which should be the icing on the cake of your happiness. It doesn’t work that way.
God didn’t design us to stay in our comfort zones, or else we would never grow and develop to our full potentials. You can see how easy it is to stay in your comfortable 80 and become that employee who truly is like furniture – dependable and there for many years, but keeps getting passed for everything great because you don’t get noticed.
Let’s turn to your 20. Think about those colleagues who constantly get the highest ratings. You might be wondering what it is they really do. They have all learned to work smart. They pay attention to the 20 which means they have learned to navigate the spotlight. Whilst you are probably comfortable behind the scenes doing good fulfilling work, those colleagues will jump at any opportunity and use every opportunity to be visible.
As believers, our value of humility makes a lot of us shy away from the spotlight. Don’t get me wrong, don’t be visible for the sake of it. We see people of the world chasing their egos and making a name for themselves however we are called to rise and shine (see Isaiah 60:1).
For many years, I hid behind the cloak of false humility. I downplayed my accomplishments and giftings and enjoyed working tirelessly behind the scenes with little recognition. Looking back, I know senior management realized that I shied away from the biggest meetings, whilst some of my colleagues were like, “Let me in!”
It took a while to realize that being in the spot light wasn’t a bad thing. It is an opportunity to be credible and serve your gifts to your organization. Joseph did not shy away when he stood before Pharaoh. He boldly shared the dream interpretation as well as his strategy. We often say that promotion comes from the Lord (and rightly so), but what do we do with those opportunities the Lord presents us with to be visible and get that promotion?
Being visible is a big part of your 20 percent. However, if you are a shy or modest person, you are probably recoiling at the thought of stepping into or deliberately working the spotlight. I will tell you that the glass ceiling comes very quickly for those who stay behind the scenes.
Part of your development as a professional is not only being very good at what you do, like being technically sound, but also being able to manage and influence people which is where leadership comes into play. A lot of people tend to be at either extreme – being task driven or living to please the bosses. But, being credible comes from being technically sound, and being a person of influence… learning to use and navigate the spotlight.