In the late 19th century Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto made a startling observation: he found that 80 per cent of the country’s land was owned by only 20 per cent of the population. Upon further reflection, he also observed that 80 per cent of the peas in his garden came from only 20 per cent of the pea pods! He came to the astute conclusion that for many events, roughly 80 per cent of effects come from 20 per cent of causes.
The Pareto Principle, or 80-20 rule as it’s now known, remains particularly relevant for businesses today, and is used to inform strategy related to everything from sales (roughly 80 per cent of revenue comes from 20 per cent of clients in most organizations) to customer service, where 80 per cent of complaints come from about a fifth of customers. You get the idea.
But what does it means in terms of strategy execution? How can the 80-20 rule help us get our business plans moving forward?
This is an important and timely question, especially as Harvard Business Review recently named strategy execution as the top concern among today’s business leaders. (Yes, most CEOs admit to being poor at turning strategy in to action. And they’re very worried about it.)
The good news is, our friend Pareto can help.
His philosophy suggests that when it comes to strategy execution, only about 20 per cent of tasks are vital. The other 80 per cent are comparatively trivial. And, after 25 years of counseling clients on strategy execution, I couldn’t agree more.
So here’s my advice for getting the 20 per cent right:
- Make sure everyone “gets” it — that they understand the plan and how they contribute to it
I’m not talking about paraphrasing/regurgitating/reciting the mission, vision or the goals of the plan. I’m talking about making sure that each and every team member understands how they specifically are contributing. Each person needs to be able to say, “here’s what I am working on today, this week or this month that will directly impact on our planned goal.” Individuals who can’t do this either don’t know where the enterprise is going or don’t know how to help.
HOT TIP: Meet with your team to discuss the plan in terms that you understand and that you can translate into action. What needs to be done and why? How does that action support the strategic plan? Who will do it and when? Use SMART objectives. (Specific. Measurable. Achievable. Relevant and Time bounded).
- Empower yourself – and your team members – with authority
Lack of authority is what stops a lot of people from getting things done. When they try to make a decision or take an action, someone like a boss, a peer or a subordinate says, ‘you can’t do that. That’s not your decision. That is not in your job description. Let me check your work first. Leave it with me, I’ll get back to you.’ This is a sure recipe for failure.
HOT TIP: When assigning a team member to a task or activity, also give him/her the authority level that allows them to own it. If you are the person being assigned a task, ask authority-seeking questions: Can I spend? To what limit? Can I change the spec’s or just recommend? Can I reject the work of others? Who decides if the quality is acceptable?
- Own it
Yoda said it best, “there is no try, only do”. Do you believe you can get it done? Motivational experts say that belief is 80 per cent of success. Remember customers don’t care about trying; they want what they ordered, perfectly, every time and at a fair price. Just like your internal customers.
So start now. Use the Pareto Principle to turn your strategic plans into action. Make sure you and your team get it, own it and get it done with authority. By using these tips, you can eliminate the trivial tasks and focus on the most important: the 20 per cent.