I’ll admit, I didn’t do any research on this rule. Someone told me this 10+ years ago and it stuck with me. As I worked with numerous colleagues in the financial world and interacted with others in different industries, I think the math works itself to be true.

I’m talking the 10-80-10 rule.

10% of people, no matter what you do for them, no matter how well you train them, no matter how hard they try, will fail. They just won’t get it. In some cases, their commitment is often lacking. (If fail is too harsh of a word, they won’t meet expectations.)

80% of people will meet your expectations. Most will need your leadership. You’ll need to check in with them often and constantly coach them. Sometimes you’ll have to hold their hand. You may find complacency in their role (not always a bad thing). In the end, you need X job done and they’ll get X job done.

10% of people will always succeed. You simply set the expectation and they will meet and almost always exceed it. They’re fun to have because you can raise the bar. You can throw them into challenging situations and they’ll figure it out.

Knowing this rule and knowing when to apply it in varying circumstances is important. I believe that if you can do this effectively, it will potentially help you get a better grasp on your team and you can do a better job at leading. Not to mention that you won’t have the wrong people on your team.

Let’s talk about the 10-80-10 rule.

The 10% who fail —

You’ll spend an overwhelming majority of your time working with your bottom 10%.
These folks are often gifted and talented… and they just don’t care enough.
Dealing with these folks keep you up at night.
They constantly question your leadership.
Lots and lots of self talk that leads to nothing. (What do they tell themselves?)
They try and reinvent the wheel. Worst, they don’t follow the proven process(es) in your organization.
The quality of their work is questionable. They take up a lot of your time and their output is minimal.
In business development, this person has a massive lead list but never prospects. If they do prospect they simply cannot close.
In sales, they get one good deal and then stop prospecting.
If their role is part of a process or series of steps, you find that things break down with them.
In many cases, this person isn’t in the proper role. (Think of a salesperson who is better in managing operations or someone who isn’t really outgoing in a customer-facing position.)

Lost time can equal lost money. You’re spinning your wheels. They’re dead weight (in their current role or) in your organization.

The 80% —-

These folks meet your expectations.
They do as they’re asked. (And that’s it.)
Their mind can veer off and as their leader, you’re always bringing them back to home base.
They may suffer if you don’t lead them (probably because you’re dealing with the huge bullet list above).
They need and want your leadership.

The 10% who figure it out — If there is a negative with having these folks….

They’re typically savvy enough to be entrepreneurs. You may lose them to their very own startup.
You love having them on your team but you realize they’ll get promoted.
You pay a premium for their work (and that’s not a bad thing).

For those who fail because they’re in the wrong role

I’ve seen strong customer-facing folks and strong salespeople fail miserably in leadership. A successful real estate agent may be a terrible broker when it comes to managing a team of people. In retail, a good supervisor of entry-level employees may not be a good general manager of quality supervisors and department managers. A good chef doesn’t make a strong restaurateur. An individual in business development may figure things out in prospecting but may not have the proper skills in service delivery.

In organizations where different units play different roles in start to finish, it’s important that people are in the proper roles for efficiency and effectiveness.

When dealing with your team

The bottom 10% — I’m not saying that you need to immediately get rid of this dead weight. Numerous factors should be considered. Depending on your industry, could this person be better suited in a different role? Could a sales manager be better suited in an operations manager role? If you come to a point and realize that someone is in this bottom 10%, be sure to invest quality time in training (be tact in your message delivery)… and then set up check-in points. Be sure to follow HR guidelines. In the world of sales or business development, identify an exit point that both of you can agree on if things don’t work. Just because someone wants it so bad doesn’t mean that with all the effort and drive they’ll be able to meet expectations. In the hiring process, simply lay out this rule and agree that if they’re on the wrong 10%, it can mean that you cut ties. And when it’s time to cut ties, cut them. In the end, most of these folks will fizzle out and not having them in your organization is most likely best for business.

The 80% — As a leader you know that you want people to exceed expectations but your expectation should really be that these folks do as they’re asked. Slowly raise the bar. Invest the time with these folks because they need and want your time. Recognize them. Know what makes them tick and use your leadership to further build your vision for increased performance.

The top 10% — Again, these are typically your top performers. Monkey see, monkey do better. They improve workflow and are able to streamline processes.They most likely require the least amount of time and maintenance but doesn’t mean they don’t need your leadership. Have an open door policy with these folks. They need just as much love as the 80%. It’s most likely upfront help they need. Perhaps a small kick in the butt and they’re off to the races. If and when they do need help, don’t ignore them. You may experience turnover because these folks get promoted. These are also the folks who are sought after by other employers. Keep the pedal to the metal with this group.

Next steps

Candidly think of where you are right now and where you fall with 10-80-10 rule.

Think of all the various roles and responsibilities within your company. Admin, sales, operations, customer/client service, product delivery, etc. Most likely, you’ll find that you’ll fall into different segments of the rule depending on the role. And that’s okay. That’s why organizational charts exist.

Are you currently in the right role to at least meet expectations?
Do you find that you’re struggling even though you’re driven to keep going?
Do you have any dead weight holding back productivity?

Lastly, look back over your career. Can you spot a moment in time where you transitioned from the bottom 10% to always figuring it out? Sometimes it takes not just proper training, but having the right leader(s) and being motivated by that person or group. Experience could be a reason why one improves. That same experience could change skillsets and could be why one may begin to fail in different roles.

By the way, did you notice how much text was dedicated to the 10% who will fail no matter what? Yeah, I noticed it, too.

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