Brian Fielkow

The 20/60/20 Rule: How to Handle Misaligned Employees

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No matter how effectively we communicate and execute change in our company, some team members just won’t accept and adapt to that change as fast as others. What we sometimes forget is that some employees will actively work against our efforts to drive change in our organization. They will recruit employees to work against you. After all, misery loves company. These individuals could even be among your most tenured employees.

The best way to deal with this challenge is to understand what I call the “20/60/20 rule.” I first heard this concept referenced when I was an executive with Waste Management. Our CEO had been hired to turn the company around after a scandal. Legend has it, he called a leadership meeting and made this statement: “Twenty percent of you know where we are going and are on board with it. Sixty percent of you understand the need for change but are skeptical that we can really do this. My job is to win you over. And 20 percent of you do not agree with our plan and have already made up your minds about it. My commitment is to ensure you a fast and graceful exit.”

From that moment on, I have never forgotten the 20/60/20 rule. I urge you to keep this concept firmly in mind as you go about building your company. Trying to win over 100 percent of your team is a fool’s mission.

We want our team to take our ideas and run with them with across-the-board commitment and enthusiasm, but it’s just not always going to turn out that way. Plus, you’re not in this to win a popularity contest. You are leading change to build a healthier culture and a more profitable business. Like it or not, a portion of your team will never agree with where you are going. The faster you can identify and eliminate those employees, the faster you can advance your agenda.

Before we take a closer look at the importance of finding that 20 percent of your team who make up the non-followers and how to deal with them, let’s get back to the other 80 percent for a moment.

Consider that group of employees who know where you’re going and are on board with it. Among this group, identify your opinion leaders — those employees who consistently seem to know what’s going on with your team and who tend to have the most influence on those around them. They may not necessarily have the high-profile titles or job functions, but they have the true pulse of the organization, and others listen to or watch them. Spend time with these opinion leaders to further emphasize what you are trying to do and how you value their assistance. Help them to help you. They can have a tremendous influence on those employees who understand the need for change but who may be carrying a degree of doubt or uncertainty about how it’s all going to play out. You can’t win over all of these employees by yourself, so empower your opinion leaders to move the ball forward with you.