As a business or team leader, one of your most important tasks is helping your team do their best work. But can you identify what makes the difference between your best performing team member and the one that is struggling?
What amount of time does your team spend doing their best work?
High performing team members generally love at least 80% of tasks. However, in every role there is stuff that simply comes with the territory – stuff that may not be enjoyed, but is tolerated because it needs to be done. These “must do” tasks for the most productive team members are rarely greater than 20%.
This 80/20 split is an example of the Pareto principle. In this instance, an employee’s job satisfaction comes from 80% of tasks in their day that they love.
Although, if the 80/20 rule starts to shift from the “love” tasks to the tolerate tasks, people start to underperform, become miserable, and question their commitment to the role or organisation. Often, they may not identify the underlying cause until it’s too late.
If you have team members that would rate the balance between “love” tasks and “tolerate” tasks as 50/50, then both you and your employee are at a tipping point that needs attention. Taking early action to shift the balance back towards love, versus tolerate, will help your employee to keep being an engaged member of the team.
But if the scale tips too far, for too long, it can lead to resentment, burnout, and sometimes serious impact on human health. Team members in the 20/80 split have the potential to be actively disengaged, looking for other opportunities, and potentially destructive to the team productivity and culture as a whole.
The success in shifting a 50/50 team member to 80/20 will depend on how willing and capable you both are to bring a growth mindset versus a fixed mindset to the challenges.
Helping shift the balance
To help shift the love vs tolerate scale back towards 80/20 you will need listening skills, and time and space scheduled for a one-to-one with your team member. This conversation is equally valuable whether you do it in-person or remotely via a video call (a phone call may not give you a chance to see the visual cues).
Some of the questions you can ask for a co-designed discovery process can include:
- What are you most enjoying about the work you’re doing? What part of the work is inspiring, motivating, and enjoyable? How much of your day do you spend doing these things?
- What part of the work do you feel stuck? What have you been trying hard to work on but it feels like you’re banging your head?
- What part of the work is “meh” or “so-so”? What tasks do you feel bored or ambivalent about?
- Do you feel you’re playing to your strengths in your role?
- Are you feeling optimistic, pessimistic or somewhere in the middle about your current role and your place in the team?
- Do you feel you’re being set up to fail in any way? Are the expectations from me, the team or the business realistic?
- What could change so the expectations are reasonable?
- Do you feel equipped to do your job well? Do you have the tools, resources and information needed?
- How can we work together to improve things?
If you commit to one meaningful conversation a week with each team member, you will find this conversation isn’t a mountain of built up frustration but instead a regular part of the conversations used to develop your team. Unfortunately, a Gallup survey (US study) found only 20% of employees strongly agreed they had a conversation with their manager in the last six months about the steps they can take to reach their goals.
After each conversation, the next step is to take what you uncovered, and convert three of those things into a short to medium term action plan. Both yourself and your team member need to commit to taking direct action to turn things around.
Evaluating your own sweet spot
As important as helping your team stay in the sweet spot, being a better leader is also knowing your own sweet spot.
Regularly checking in and monitoring your performance against the forces pulling or pushing you out of balance. When you find yourself out of balance, how do you find a way back?
Regardless of whether you are a team leader or business leader, part of your responsibility is to observe your team, and assist when you see someone struggling. This struggle may be due to the 80/20 rule being out of kilter, from personal challenges or other elements in their life. Your role is to help address the elements within your control that can help them be a productive and engaged member of your team.