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Manage the 4 in 80/20 DIFFERENTLY (4 of 4)

March 19, 2015
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Managing the 4% Differently

In this blog I’d like to underscore something that I see most people absolutely miss. It’s the reality that you need to manage the 20% (and even more the 4%) differently than how you manage anything else you and your staff work on, given it’s impact on your bottom line. I can tell you from multiple consulting engagements, in organizations all over the world, the same techniques and tools, meetings and emails, power points and spreadsheets aren’t going to provide nearly enough horsepower given the effort it takes to stay on top of the 4%. Manage the 4% like you manage everything else, with some intent to spend more time on the 4% and you will fit right in with the majority of executives, but you won’t see the predicted boost in results.

Is that a new concept for you? The concept that you need to manage the 4% differently, not just spend more time on those areas? I wonder, because most people in management aren’t doing it, whether they are managing inward or outward facing effects. Given the leverage they exercise and the resulting importance, you’ll be well served if you manage especially the 4% differently than how you manage the rest of the work process pounding on your desk. Here’s some suggestions for what you need to do:

  1. First comes first, which inevitably means you’re “not going to get to it all done”… and in fact shouldn’t be, based upon the 80/20 rule. Be absolutely clear on what the 4% is and get that done with priority. Be ruthless about this, which means actively screening new stuff crossing your desk as to its relative value and ability to contribute the results you want, and only assign time and resources relative to its relationship to your 4% activities.
  2. Manage the 80% based upon (hopefully existing) basic processes and values for “how to get things done.” This should be relatively automatic, based upon the processes and practices in place. On the other hand, manage the “identified” 20% or 4% like an experiment, with lots of visibility on the process, on updates and verification to confirm results. The top 4% is a “hands-on” process in which you revalidate from time to time (keep asking “why”), so approach this effort with a “let’s test or confirm” mind-set.
  3. Often what makes the 4% come to light is the challenge to solve issues or obstacles that have thwarted others. So be very rigorous about identifying issues, next steps to resolve them and results. You absolutely want visibility into the critical thinking process that’s behind the work effort supporting the 4%. Expose any authority’s recommendations for problem resolution to the same level of testing.  Finally solving the 4% issues often requires creative solutions to obstacles, and the creative solutions usually involve one or more reframes or world-view shifts in order to succeed.  So keep asking yourself, “What if we looked at it this way?”
  4. Use “swarming” to flood identified problems in the 4% and 20% areas to quickly resolve with your best experts. Time is just to critical, especially with your 4% activities, to let obstacles or impasses go unattended, and not get the benefit of your best and brightness (even if that means simply your sole focus first thing in the morning).
  5. Integrate the often highly intuitive processes that surround managing the 4% with stream-lined updates. This isn’t the realm of power-points, spreadsheets or your average project management tool. You need to use something like ManagePro that easily bridges the prioritization of the 80/20 challenge with results testing and scoring and narrative updates that fuel an accurate creative process.
  6.  It’s all about people.  Achieving the 4%, “take it to the next level” initiatives, seems to always require working through others, negotiating relationships, generating alignment and buy-in.  so be prepared to work the people side of the equation throughout you journey on 4%ers.

Bottom Line: The 80/20 rule captivates our imagination about what’s possible if we could just focus on the 20% that delivers 80% of the results. Even more so, the 4% that delivers 2/3rds of our results.  Unfortunately most organizations are not successful at applying the 80/20 rule. Successfully leveraging the 4% requires a connected creativity that stands on the shoulders of excellent critical thinking and the discipline for capturing the essence in an information management process that leverages the information bread crumb trail along the way.  This is different, and more rigorous, than the requirements for managing 96% of the rest of the stuff you face.  In order to be successful, I’ve found you must incorporate the following three approaches into your daily practice of focusing not just on the 20%, but the 4%:

  • The 20% and below can be hard to identify, embrace the ambiguity by testing and experimenting.
  • The 20% and 4% are different depending on whether they are inward or outward facing. Don’t be confused by the difference, address both.  
  • You have to manage the 4% differently then the remaining 96%. Your approach has to be much more involved, using different tools and resolving obstacles with heightened priority.

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