Last week, I wrote about how applying the 80-20 principle can help increase your influence at work. In this piece, I continue the thought of how that same principle can be used to help position us for sustained growth.
My work as a Pastor’s wife and Career Coach put me in contact with a lot of people who have either lost their jobs or are having a rough time at work. However, I find that some of us tend not to learn from our mistakes because hindsight may take a couple of years to become 20/20. For others, it sadly never becomes 20/20 because we often don’t pause to think about how we could have done things differently – whether they worked out eventually or not.
It took a couple of years and coaching from a dear friend for me to see the impact of the career decisions I had made up to that point. I have always been a passionate employee and conscientious, at least I try to be. However, I haven’t consistently gotten the kind of results I thought my hard work deserved which was a bummer for me. I enjoyed my job a lot, and maybe a bit too much. Allow me to explain.
Prioritising the 80
My manager once raised her voice at me ordering me to stop helping my “customers/assigned business group”. I thought I was adding value to these organisations through the creation and implementation of new processes. However, adding value came at a cost. My customers loved it, and my bosses weren’t too pleased. They wanted me to do less of what I loved, which was supporting my customer group and more of what they wanted which meant sometimes editing a document over and over again or refining a one-pager to perfection. “Where was the value in that,” I thought?
My work with my customer group accounted for 80 percent of my work and hit my sweet spot. On the other hand, the work I deemed of less value and almost a waste of time accounted for 20 percent, and I brazenly prioritised the 80 percent, since that had led to my growth within the organisation and brought me recognition.
Underestimating the 20
That 20 percent, however, caused me career grief and taught me a valuable lesson: The 20 percent of your work which may be clerical, or often taken for granted, determines 80 percent of your career outcomes. It doesn’t matter if everyone is dazzled by your wit and intelligence, doing the small things well also matters.
I am sure my experience with the 80-20 principle as it affects our performance outcomes at work is not unique. If you have a joy ride at work, you have probably learned to suck it up and do those less enjoyable 20 per cent which ends up being everything. Those things which you think are a waste of time, the proverbial closets which no one wants to clean. Everyone passes it up, but you choose to clean it without complaint and then guess who pays attention?
Songs of Solomon 2:15 beautifully depicts my thoughts. It says, “Catch for us the little foxes, those little foxes that spoil the vine, for our vines have tender grapes.” Those little foxes can ruin years of farming. A wise farmer not only concentrates on hard work of clearing and cultivating their farm but also protects their farm from the “little foxes’ that can ruin all that labour. In the same way, if we want to see sustained growth, we must catch those foxes that destroy productivity in our lives and work environment.
As I write, I believe that there are some of you who have spent years building your organisation and have found yourself tossed out unceremoniously and you are deeply wounded and offended. I believe that God wants to bring freedom from that offence and restore you! Revaluate your work and think of what you could have done better in light of this discussion. A book I highly recommend, which also helped me see how I was doing the 20 percent wrong is How to Lead When You Are Not in Charge” by Clay Scroggins.
In the end, the 20 percent which I wasn’t so passionate about has become a valuable experience which has helped position me on my career growth trajectory. Thus, the next time your boss sighs about something that is a pain point, pay attention. Pull up your socks and fix that 20. You would have scored big in the eyes of those who determine your advancement within that organisation.