Last year I had the pleasure of working with a pair of engagement consultants who gave me and the rest of the senior management team some great advice and tips on how to engage our employees effectively.
The concept of the 20:60:20 rule was one that I had seen prior to this meeting but they approached it very differently to how I had seen it used before.
Explanation of the traditional 20:60:20
- The Top 20% comprised of strong performers
- The Middle 60% comprised of average performers
- The Bottom 20% comprised of weak performers
Simply you leave the top 20% to their own devices, giving them opportunity for autonomy, the middle 60% you concentrate most of your time on, developing the potential and the bottom 20% you need to manage most vigorously.
· The Top 20% comprised of strongly engaged employees
· The Middle 60% comprised of averagely engaged employees
· The Bottom 20% comprised of disengaged employees
When I first saw this model I was convinced that you should spend trying to increase engagement, specifically in the bottom 20% as I have always believed that disengaged employees may often have a reason for this caused by the company (eg. been passed over for promotion, doesn’t feel they are trusted, is never offered more autonomy etc) but I was told that this was the wrong way to look at it. Over the past year or so I have come to agree with the engagement model and I wanted to share their advice with you.
Please note: The top 20% are not necessarily the “best” at their jobs, but they are the people that most demonstrate your company values. This is important because skills can be learnt, whereas high performers with attitude problems are hard to change and can cause friction across the business.
The top 20% should be given the most opportunities and attention. These people will act in the best interests of the company, so give them the autonomy to get the job done. Challenge them and grow them. This group should be offered development opportunities first.
The middle 60% should be given training opportunities to develop the basics but development opportunities will always be offered to the top 20% first. This group should be encouraged but main focus should always remain on the top 20%. This 60% will see the benefit of showing themselves as more engaged with the business (eg. loyalty, extra effort, company-wide thinking) and will often mimic the behaviour of the top 20%.
The bottom 20% should basically be ignored. Obviously from a functional capacity they will receive job training but they do not get access to the extra development offered to those in the top 20%. This group will make one of two choices, decide that they want the opportunities and therefore change their behaviour or they will leave the company.
As this process continues to work, your bottom 20% will move up to the level of the bottom of your 60%. You will always recruit people who are the same or better than your top 20%, this means that you will constantly be moving employees up.
I am not suggesting that you have a list of which employees lie in which group, this would be pointless because it can change frequently. It is more a litmus test that says that we pay most attention to those who most demonstrate the company’s culture and reward them for their behaviour.
The one thing that they said that really stuck with me was:
“If you focus all of your attention on the bottom 20%, the whiners and moaners, everyone else in the company will see which way you are looking (backwards) and start to follow, if you are always looking forwards that’s where they will all aim”.
Anyone who has worked with horses will know, you can lead a horse without a head collar or rope, if you walk with your eyes forward they will come. The moment you turn round and try to coax him, the horse will be confused because you are facing backwards and trying to control. This works the same way with people – face forward, take them with you and they will follow.