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Managing to the 2%

Consider this: You have a competent work team. They collaborate, share knowledge and ideas freely, offer and accept feedback and deliver on time. All of them, but one — we’ll call him Bob. Bob does not participate with his team, does not appear engaged, and calls out of work and team meetings monthly. So what do you do? Coach, support, discipline? Maybe, but what I am finding is that many organizations create rules or develop policies to handle the ‘Bobs’ of the company.

Consider this: You have a competent work team. They collaborate, share knowledge and ideas freely, offer and accept feedback and deliver on time. All of them, but one — we’ll call him Bob. Bob does not participate with his team, does not appear engaged, and calls out of work and team meetings monthly. So what do you do? Coach, support, discipline? Maybe, but what I am finding is that many organizations create rules or develop policies to handle the ‘Bobs’ of the company. They create team agreements, missed meetings policies, minimum workload requirements — even though no one but Bob shows up this way. This is called managing to the 2%, and it’s a dangerous and costly trend in our business cultures today.

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What’s the damage?

So what is the fall out of this behavior? Think about it. When the 98% wake up, smell the coffee, and realize they are being “ruled” to death because of a few who aren’t contributing, the dynamic of the whole team is in jeopardy. Morale suffers; it takes twice as long to maneuver because of the restrictions put in place for the 2%. Employees end up feeling disempowered, and if the focus on managing to the 2% continues, turnover increases.

Why do we do it?

It is clear that this way of managing counterproductive — so why are so many of us operating this way? There seems to be a variety of reasons why leaders allow this behavior to continue.

1. It is easier to make a rule around it than confront the issue and deal with the individual(s).
2. Rules make leaders think they are in control and on top of everything, making it easier to keep people in a box.
3. It makes us feel powerful to be able to set policy and tell others what to do.
4. We have no idea how else to handle it.

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Breaking the Cycle

• Find out what your people think. At your next management meeting, ask “Who do you think we manage to: the 2% or the 98%?”

• Anytime a policy or rule is being considered ask the question, “Who are we managing to?”

• Manage them up or manage them out. Don’t let the 2% bog you down. The 2% will always exist but don’t let them trap you. Keeping them erodes your culture.

• Become a transparent community. When communication is clear, concise and all employees know what is going on it is hard for the 2% to gain a foothold.

• Give the gift of training. Your employees will gain critical skills with training in giving feedback and conflict management – these are among the least known skills and most necessary for every facet of life.

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Is that it?

One last thought. Hold the mirror up and if it is you who are managing to the 2%, cut it out and go apologize. You will make huge headway with your team and garner respect as well.

So – what’s your 2 percent solution?

Grace Andrews • Executive Coach/Corporate Healer • President, Training By Design • Boston, MA • gandrews@training-by-design.com • www.training-by-design.com

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