Sunday, February 25, 2007

The 30% Solution and the Leadership Epidemic

This weekend, as I was sorting through my weekly pile of notes, I came across a statistic I had written down. Based on the illegible scribbles attached to the note, I must have been driving when I wrote it.

“On any given day, the typical employee commits only 70% of their productive capacity to the organization’s objectives.”

I’m not sure where I heard or read it. I don’t know if it is true or what “productive capacity” means. All I know is I can’t seem to shake this mystery quote from my mind.

Now, I’m not writing to point out my poor note-taking habits or obsessive tendencies. Rather, I mention it because it reminds me of an idea that lies at the foundation of my approach to working with people.

“You can buy a man’s back and his time, but you cannot buy his heart or his mind; these he must give willingly.”

In my mind, the missing 30% is the part that isn’t for sale. Your people must give this part willingly. It is where leaders succeed or fail.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating that people should or can work at 100% capacity all of the time. You cannot work machines at 100% capacity all of the time, so if your plan calls for squeezing 100% from people, you’re flirting with disaster.

Still, the 30% means something. So what is it?

The answer lies in what brought you to the leadership table.

Look at it like this. The chances are some part of your 30% is what brought you to the leadership table. Perhaps you used part of your 30% to better manage you tasks and improve your personal product quality or quantity. Maybe you used part of your 30% to develop a better understanding of your organization’s underlying value proposition, to “Know the Machine” better than anyone in your department did.

Here in lies the rub. Your experience tells you that success is a function of the 30%. The problem is you can’t base your future success on your 30%. You must base your future success on tapping into the 30% that your people must give willingly.

In short, so much leadership sucks because so many “leaders” try to tap into their people’s 30% with the same tools they used to tap into their own 30%. Rather than take the time to develop a leader-follower relationship that respects the value of the 30% they apply the one-way boss-employee relationship that worked with the one resource the truly controlled.

“When your only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.”

If you don’t want your leadership to suck, it’s time to expand your collection of tools.

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