Leading Change, Part 1

The 20/60/20 Rule

Over the last year, organisations have faced enormous challenges, and the UK is now on course for a double-dip recession for the first time since 1975. The challenge for business leaders therefore at the start of a new year is how can they formulate a clear plan to tackle the inevitable change that this tough economic climate will demand, and how can they support their teams through this turbulent period? 

Over the next few weeks, we will consider four guiding principles for leading change and in the first of this series, we ask where leaders are focusing their time and attention. 

Change is an inevitable part of business growth.  Whether you choose to expand within an existing market, or tackle an entirely new customer-base, successful businesses are never standing still. Change can be unsettling, so it’s important to anticipate questions or hesitations, and respond with clarity. A clear vision, simply expressed, is an important starting point for leading change. 

But while it’s natural for staff to seek reassurance or explanation, leaders must also feel confident distinguishing between hesitance and obstinacy. The 20/60/20 rule offers a helpful perspective on this. 

The top 20% in an organisation are those people full of energy, ideas and enthusiasm who look forward to coming to work. They are the ones that go ‘more than the extra mile’. They are your high performers. The bottom 20% are the exact opposite – they are the poorer performers who moan, whinge and find things to complain about or have reason to find fault.  

The mid-60% are people who quietly get on with their jobs. They follow those who make management spend most time with. All too often, that’s the bottom 20%. That means 80% of staff are disengaged with management. This may go some way to explaining why in many businesses there is either a low level of employee engagement or, even worse, a sense of ‘them and us’, the employees against the management. Study after study bears this out. 

What is needed is a ‘switch’ of attention from leaders towards the top 20% to listen, communicate, coach, support and train these people first. Within weeks, the mid-60% will see the change in the leaders’ behaviour and they will switch and follow the top 20% as they will want to feel part of this new focus. Now the leaders have 80% of the organisation actively with them driving performance!  

Change can then develop at a pace. Some of the bottom 20% may leave as they will not like the change, or can’t keep up with it, but most stay as they know the grass is not greener on the other side of the fence. As the unwritten rules of ‘how things are done around here’ begin to change, many of the doubters will see things in a new light and you will find you take the whole organisation with you. The bottom 20% will follow the mid-60% and begin to perform better too. Ignore their moaning and whinging but ensure poor performance is addressed if they flout standards.  

So, the first principle of leading change is to consider the 20/60/20 rule within your team, division or business; focus on those that can help to demonstrate a positive change. 

Next week, it’s all about the ‘change curve’; even our most buoyant top 20% will experience the highs and lows of dealing with change. 


Dr Stewart Barnes

comments powered by Disqus