The Vital 20 Percent: Where to Focus Your Energy at Work

By Dirk Zeller

Used effectively, the 80/20 rule can increase your on-the-job performance. From boardroom to lunchroom, executive suite to mailroom, this time-management principle can help you accomplish the most important tasks in less time and help you advance in your career.

The basic principle that in all things only a few are vital and many are trivial is known as the 80/20 rule.

The 20-percent investment in the 80 percent of results remains relatively constant. What’s truly important for success changes very little within a given profession. The two global objectives of any successful business are profit and customer retention. What differs among professions is how those global objectives translate to match individual objectives.

For example, here’s how the 80/20 rule factors into some major job categories:

  • Ownership/executive leadership: As an executive or owner, your most important role is to establish the vision, goals, and benchmarks for the business.

    What are the core values and core purpose for the business? What are the goals for the year and then next quarter? What are the most pressing problems that need to be solved? What are the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats the company or marketplace is experiencing? You then have to convey those answers consistently in clear terms for your lieutenants to follow and hold the lieutenants accountable to the standards.

  • Sales: For sales professionals, lead generation leads to 80 percent of your return. Without new leads and new prospects to sell to, your customer and prospect base remains fixed to your current clients. So in sales, your most important tasks are prospecting and following up on leads; you should put a priority on securing and conducting sales appointments and building personal relationships.

    Don’t forget your existing client base as well. They usually follow the same 80/20 rule, where 20 percent of them contribute 80 percent of the revenue. Spend your time with this group to increase sales and referrals.

  • Management: For those in leadership positions, your vital 20 percent is the coaching and development of people. You use coaching strategies to encourage and empower your employees, and you monitor your staff’s adherence to the company’s strategic plans. In addition, you help your employees acquire the knowledge, skills, attitude, and actions to advance their careers.

  • Task- or service-based roles: This group of people varies the most because it’s the broadest. To identify your vital tasks, take a look at your company’s objectives, your department’s objectives, and your own objectives to get a well-rounded picture of how your role fits into the bigger picture. Then decide which of your job responsibilities increase sales or improve customer retentions.

    After that, consider the value of the product or service you offer, and weigh the importance of quality versus speed or quantity — your ultimate goal is to serve your customers better so you retain and grow your relationships with them. (If you’re not sure how much weight each element deserves, talk to your supervisor about where you should focus your efforts.)

    • If quality takes higher priority, ask yourself how you can deliver a better product or service in the amount of time you’re given.

    • If delivery speed or quantity is more important, ask yourself how you can deliver that product more efficiently while maintaining quality.

  • Administration: If you’re in an administrative role, your goal is to enhance the company’s performance, whether you’re supporting frontline sales staff or assisting the corporate leadership in steering the business toward profit.

    If you’re in sales support, how can you help free up the salespeople to do more selling? Can you fill out reports for the salespeople? Research new market opportunities and get contact information? Can you repeat that help for the sales manager in reports and better tracking of the salespeople’s numbers so the manager can do more coaching and shadowing of the salespeople?

    If you’re working in customer service, is there a recurring customer ­service problem that needs to be solved? Can you identify it? Can you find at least two solutions to the problem and bring them to your boss for review? You can make yourself an indispensable asset to the company with these actions and save time for yourself and your superiors as well.