A financially healthy company is largely dependent on employees’ performance. Increasing the productivity of each person by even 5% can significantly impact a company’s bottom line.

Creating such organizational change is no easy feat, but percentage point by percentage point, it can be done.

Recently, I heard Sunjay Nath speak on this topic at the University of Waterloo’s masters in business, entrepreneurship and technology program.

80_20 Rule

His approach to increasing performance and shifting corporate culture builds on some popular principles in business, including: the Pareto principle, also known as the 80-20 rule; Newton’s law of motion, as in action follows action while inaction follows inaction; and the SWAT analysis, which focuses on strengths and fills the gaps with necessary supports for weaknesses.

Nath combines these principles to create what he’s dubbed the 10-80-10 principle to explain best practices in organizational change.

“The most effective strategies in life and business are really simple,” he said. “Most speakers aren’t teaching anything new. The key is to position information in such a way that people who already know what they should do, will take action and actually do it.”

A potentially disappointing comment for a professional speaker to hear, but he’s right. It’s all about whether you can motivate a crowd to adapt their behaviour for the better.

As Nath is the past-president of the Canadian Association of Professional Speakers Toronto chapter, he would certainly know. He’s also been speaking to crowds professionally for 16 years, so he has learned from experience.

When it comes to change, be it personal or professional, Nath encourages people to analyze the top 10%, the majority 80% and the bottom 10%. The key is to identify who or what is contributing to the desired result, who or what is just going with the flow, and who are the culprits or what are the habits that are keeping you from achieving the desired outcome.influencer

Then, empower the top 10, neutralize the bottom 10 and give the majority 80 time to mimic the behaviour of the leaders.

The top 10% are the influencers who can drive change. These people represent the path of least resistance. It takes much less time to encourage great employees to become better than it does to convince negative employees to become positive.

The natural tendency is to want to change the bottom 10%, when in fact engaging the people or habits that are already moving you in a positive direction and have the power to influence the 80 majority will lead you to the change you want.

“Peer pressure is not something that automatically stops when we leave high school. It’s human nature. So whichever end of the spectrum you empower, will determine the direction of the 80 majority,” said Nath.

Eventually what will happen, as you empower the top 10 to influence the majority 80 is that the bottom 10 will identify themselves as the bottom 10 and will be forced to accommodate the new standards or leave the organization.

Nath used the 10-80-10 principle in his personal journey to significant weight loss. He looked at all of his activities that contributed to his weight. His top 10 was that he went for a 20-minute walk every day. His bottom 10 was the daily drive-through at McDonald’s. Everything else in the middle was just that, in the middle.

His plan was to increase and empower the top 10 by making his short walk faster and longer over time. He neutralized the bottom 10 by restricting his McDonald’s meals to one a week. The shift in focus, over time, meant he was moving toward a healthier body. Eventually as he ate less fast food and walked more, he found the rest of his activities naturally became healthier. For example, eventually he craved an orange rather than a chocolate bar.