Most of us are familiar with the Pareto Principle. 20% of the input creates 80% of the result.
William Lidwell asks us to think of this like a lever. The 20% is a long lever that provides more leverage for an easier lift. The 80% is a short lever. Short lever = harder lift.
What I have observed, however, is that it can be difficult to apply the Pareto Principle.
In a previous job, my boss asked a co-worker to begin pointing people to the online training version of a course he taught and stop scheduling classes.
Her research showed that we were getting more hits from the online training course than the in-person course.
Furthermore, when she ran the operational costs of the online training vs the in-person training per person, including the development costs for the online training + the feedback received from both versions….it was pretty much a no-brainer that it was time to retire the classroom version of the course.
The co-worker resisted. Hard.
He kept scheduling courses.
He filled his schedules with one-on-ones. Which, sadly, proved to be just as ineffective as the classroom courses.
The resistance was amazing to witness. Despite all logical evidence, he refused to adopt the more valuable activity and increase his skills towards those activities.
Ultimately, he got laid off.
So why is the 80/20 principle so hard to apply?
I’ve seen arguments over what that 20% is.
Sometimes due to lack of data.
Sometimes because the data shows that the 20% does not include someone’s pet activity. Or proves someone “wrong.”
Even when the 20% is agreed to, getting people to DO the 20% gets challenging.
Again, because the 20% may not include an activity that an employee has been doing for years and is loathe to change.
Or the employee affected doesn’t have the skill (or interest) in doing an activity in that 20%.
Or, it is unclear what the employee will do once you remove that activity. Do you still value that employee? Do you have a suitable replacement activity? Are you willing to provide the resources to support the change?
The resistance could also be higher up.
Is a manager or department proud of the old 80% activity. Good at the 80% activity. Historically rewarded for that 80% activity.
Do you value that department?
Are you willing to provide the resources to support them getting good at the new 20% activity?
Help them focus on the 20% activity?
It’s not just a matter of identifying what the most valuable 20% is.
It’s helping people accept the 20% of your activity that creates your productivity and helping them perform with the same passion they used for their old, less productive, activities.