In Business and Faith: Establishing Standards

I am currently embroiled in a 4-day Supervision Boot Camp (which is actually the first half of an 8-day training that will conclude in October) that covers both basic and advanced concepts needed by managers. We’ve been discussing leadership, working in teams, generational differences, coaching, and a variety of other topics, all of which have been extremely helpful. On Wednesday, we began talking about the quality of our staffs, and specifically the 80/20 concept.

When most people hear 80/20, the saying that pops into our heads is that 80% of the work is done by 20% of the people. The consultants providing the training broke this down further by using the results of a survey. The survey showed that most companies have a mix of employees, with 30% of the employees being complete super stars. These employees were self-starters who always pursued excellence. 50%, or the majority, of employees met criterion and might be considered rising stars. They were doing what was asked and perhaps a bit more. These employees have the potential to move up to super stardom, but might need some guidance. The last 20% of the employees were falling stars, and these were your troublemakers or slackers.

When looking at these three groupings of employees (super stars, rising stars, and falling stars), we were asked what the minimum section we would tolerate was. As a whole, we all agreed that we would tolerate the 50% that met expectations, but we would not tolerate the falling stars. If you consistently can’t do the work, you shouldn’t be there.

And yet, the consultants asked, how many of us employ falling stars? How many of us still have that 20% hanging around who consistently fail to meet expectations? The truth is, the minimum we will accept is not that 50% group. The minimum we will accept is the minimum we have.

To put it another way, the behaviour you accept becomes the standard. If you accept falling star behaviour, then their output and their slacking, becomes the standard against which everything else is measured.

The problem with accepting that low standard in management is twofold. First, the falling stars will drag down the rest of the employees, impeding their progress and harming output and profit. They cause more rework, more retraining, and pulling the standards down hurts morale. Why should a super star continue to shine if they can get away with falling into the mud and doing nothing?

Second, your super stars will begin to leave and go elsewhere. They’re the self-starters, the ones who really care about the quality of their work, so they’ll be attracted to others who feel the same. If their supervisor doesn’t hold all of their staff to the level the super stars feel is appropriate, then the super stars will find someplace that does.

As we considered this in terms of management and supervision, my mind immediately jumped to theology and my personal life. What aspects of my lifestyle are in that bottom 20%, that grouping of falling stars? And for how long have I tolerated and accepted that minimum?

Though I may be doing pretty well in some aspects of my life, those falling star sections drag the rest down. I can’t worship, serve, or study as freely if sin is weighing on my mind. Each time I fail my Lord, that failure’s reverbations affect me for days until I am constantly living under a cloud of sin. The bottom 20% robs me of my time with God and the freedom I know I should be feeling, but can’t because of my guilt. I know what I should do (not tolerate that 20%), yet I let it slide. It’s easier to focus on the positive and ignore the negative, so I don’t pursue disciplinary action.

If I continue to ignore that 20%, letting it establish a permanent foothold in my life, I will eventually lose the super star aspects of my faith. Sin will drag me down until I can no longer serve God as I have been called to do, and like an anchor it will stop me from moving forward. Just like falling star employees will drive off better workers, so too will sin poison my joys.

Therefore, as hard and unappetizing as it is, we must pursue disciplinary action. Falling star employees need to be coached, counseled, and if all else fails, dismissed. Likewise, we might need to seek the help of our brothers and sisters in Christ to address our sin, we need to work diligently to overcome it, and if all else fails, we must cut the temptation out of our life completely.

If we have trouble with spending too much money, we should cut up our credit cards and stop carrying cash around (or, as a friend of mine does, only carry cash around to put a limit on what you can spend). You might have to stop watching certain movies, stop listening to certain music, or unplug yourself from the Internet entirely. Whatever it is that keeps you from God needs to be addressed, and fast before it drags you down too low.

Though the concept is taught in an expensive class for managers, it’s also just good common sense. We can’t go on accepting minimum quality as our standard. I know that I don’t want a minimum quality of life, and it’s surely not what God wants for me. Therefore I must be disciplined and address that 20%. The behaviour I accept becomes the standard, and if I want to be holy as my God is holy, then my standards simply need to get better.

2 thoughts on “In Business and Faith: Establishing Standards

  1. I like how you related your training, but the training itself horrifies me. These consultants that are teaching supervisors that 20% of the people are “falling stars” and asking why management would “tolerate” a falling star are spreading a management philosophy that is destroying American Industry. Motivation simply doesn’t work like that.

    You pick up on that with your Christianity. You always have a “20%” in your life just as you will always have 20% of employees who are struggling. The mistake is to think that these are “bad” people. My experience (supported by self-determination theory research) is that motivation is not a trait. It is a product of environment. Here’s the revelation… within a company, the supervisor creates that environment. When I consult with companies who complain about their
    “unmotivated” employees, I almost always find out that it is because of how management treats them.

    To feel motivated people need to feel competent, autonomous, and related to the task and others doing the task. When an employee is treated like a commodity or a statistic (“step into my office… you are a 20% falling star”), they lose their feeling of autonomy and relatedness and lose motivation.

    Management is about setting a vision for the organization and then helping the people working for you to be successful. It’s about identifying and cultivating people’s natural strengths and allowing them to find ways to contribute those strengths toward the vision.

    I like your Christianity point, but your consultants are teaching you how to fail in management! Email me or check out my blog to learn more about what I’m talking about (I won’t put a link here because I don’t want you to think I’m advertising… I just really hate to see consultants destroy management theory!). Thanks for writing!

    1. I wholeheartedly agree, and I think our consultants would too. Though my correlation to sin implies this, they didn’t say that the solution was to cut the bottom 20% of employees. I apologize for the misrepresentation, but I didn’t want to go into greater detail on the management side for fear of sidetracking the article.

      They recommended coaching, and as you said, creating a better environment. They told us that we can’t motivate anyone, but we can create an environment in which our employees can be motivated. That there are a variety of factors that might contribute to an employee being in that bottom 20%, and how we can address each one (with dismissal being the last and ultimately undesirable step due to rehiring costs).

      I’ll take another look at this article and see if I can tweak it to clarify the stance of the consultants. Thanks for the comment and observations!

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