The 10% That Dominate Our Lives and Ruin Our Organizations

Guest Blogger - GM Cox

By the16percent on November 14, 2013

The “Pareto Rule” suggests we derive 80% of our outcomes from 20% of our efforts. I suggest a similar “rule” that permeates our organizations—that 10% of our employees cause mayhem and drama in our organizations and dominate 80 to 90% of our time as leaders. I suggest that we need to reassess our process and our assumptions in dealing with this category of employee.

Jim Collins in Good to Great suggests that a leader has three very important roles. He utilizes the metaphor of the “bus” to represent the organization in illustrating these roles. The most critical functions of a leader are to get the right people on the bus, get those people in the right places on the bus, and most importantly, get the wrong people off the bus. It is the third role that causes us the most stress and most harm if not done when necessary.

Imagine the organization chart as a diamond rather than a tree with the tips pointing up and down. Located at the top of the diamond are the “stars”, usually consisting of the top 10% of employees. These employees are the mature, competent and self-starters who need no supervision. These are your “go to” people. Your job with these co-workers is to see that the “rule of stars” does not happen—stars tend to burn twice as bright, half as long.

A rose-cut synthetic diamond created by Apollo...

The second group, composed of 80% of our employees and spread out in the girth of the diamond, is the “work horse” of the organization. This group works steady and dependably. They need directing, mentoring, coaching, and leadership. This group gets way too little of our attention because we are spending an inordinate amount of time dealing with the bottom 10% of the organization—the whining, sniveling, malcontents (WSMs).The WSMs constantly make drama in the organization. Our job is to get these people off the bus. I suggest three steps to address these people so that you can focus on the people who actually need you. First, confront this person with facts and give them an opportunity to change. A person can go from a “WSM” to a “star”—give him or her that chance. Second, tell this person that if he or she does not change, the next time he or she comes to see you for this reason, you will terminate them—period. Third, monitor this WSM’s performance, and if he or she does not change, terminate with expediency.

My experience tells me you will have some initial face-to-face meetings, but few, if any, second meetings. We need to stop giving these people a pass because we are concerned with the legality of terminating an employee. Now, lead on.
The 10% That Dominate Our Lives and Ruin Our Organizations


  1. This is a serious problem in many organizations, but be careful that you don’t give the WSM label to people who bring up legitimate concerns. That happens too often, as well.

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