Sunday, January 8, 2012

Increasing employee engagement through the 80-20 principle

During the Libyan uprising, even the Tripoli Zoo was not spared. Out of the 175 employees, only 12 stayed back. When asked why they didn’t run away, some of them said there would be nobody else to look after the animals. ‘Humans can fend for themselves, where would the animals go?’- some said. Some others said that these animals were a national treasure and they decided to stay because of a sense of national duty. It’s extraordinary that the employees who stayed back comprised roughly 20% of the total number of employees. 
Similarly, the expatriates who stayed back during the uprising, yours truly included, was roughly equal to about 20% of the overall workforce.

You might have noticed that most of the so called ‘unimportant work’ is done by a small number of people. These people are happy to stay back, willing to work extra without additional pay and do not seem to be too motivated by promotions as much as by doing the job itself.

 Some of us may call them dumb and stupid. Nevertheless, these people are simply very passionate about what they do. The rest of us ‘smart people’ comprise 80% of the people. 

That does not mean ‘smart people’ just like to cut corners!  It’s just that the work environment doesn’t provide enough motivation for most of these employees to be passionately engaged at work.  It could be because of a lack of flexibility with the number of working hours or because of undue stress put on them by way of deadlines or targets.

That said, there seems to be no convincing explanation for this 80/20 phenomenon. But it’s such a recurrent pattern that Google decided to devote 20% of the time for employees to pursue their pet projects. This way the 80% of the ‘smart people’ would remain engaged doing things they considered relevant and exciting. As a result Google saw a massive productivity increase and is today counted among the world’s most innovative companies.

So the questions that need to be asked are,
  • Do you know the 20% of the most dedicated staff and duly recognize them instead of simply taking their dedication for granted? 
  •  Do you have policies to engage the 80% of the smart people who always complain they work for a terrible boss but are also very talented? 
If you as a team leader or boss are clueless about these questions, do something about it before your employees do! Remember, whether the employees are working passionately or not, you still need to pay their salaries. Firing under- performing employees may look like a good idea but it creates fear and a hostile environment for employees who will shy away from taking risks just to save their jobs.

So, why not spend some more money using the 80/20 principle as an index and create conditions where the employees can truly enjoy their work, love and admire their boss and be proud of their company?

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