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All Our Problems are Problems with Distribution

Pareto principle concept

I studied economics as an undergraduate over 40 years ago, and remember very little from that experience with the exception of one principle – the unequal distribution of wealth, studied by an Italian economist named Vilfredo Pareto. Some of you have come to know this idea as the Pareto Principle, or the 80/20 rule. In his study on wealth, Pareto said that 80 percent of the wealth was controlled or held by 20 percent of the population.

The Pareto Principle and Pareto analysis translated easily to total quality management, in which it was used as a tool to analyze the causes of quality problems in manufacturing facilities – again usually a function of unequal distribution. I think it would be just a small leap to apply this concept to workforce utilization and employee engagement.

The Gallup organization, which conducts various polls and surveys, reports that only between 29 and 31 percent of the US workforce are fully engaged in their jobs, and that number is often attributed to another form of unequal distribution; that of ideas, decision making, information access, and revenue sharing/profit distribution. And whether or not you believe that number (surely it is not true for your organization!), it does suggest there is a lot of untapped potential in most organizations.

Many of the challenges we face as organizations – and as a country, for that matter – are not challenges of abundance or having enough, but are problems of distribution, whether a distribution of work, decision making, access, information, profits, perks, etc.

Ask yourself these questions as they relate to your own leadership behavior and inclusion:

  • How broad is your circle and how easy is it for people to offer their perspective into the mix?
  • Are you emphasizing a leadership style and organizational culture that emphasizes caution over creating results, self-protection over productive engagement, and aggression over building alignment? These self-limiting styles overemphasize exclusion, protection, and control.

As leaders, you have the most influence and control over the systems and structures that drive engagement, creativity, and inclusion – the power to tap that untapped potential. Pay attention to the impact of limiting distribution and access on turnover, morale, and culture. Take the time to look at all your limiting strategies from a whole system perspective, and make sure you are making decisions in light of the long-term health of the whole system and all of its stakeholders. Use the tools and principles at your disposal – like the Pareto Principle – to examine or re-examine the different aspects of distribution in your organization to achieve higher engagement and alignment.

Contact me at ralph@getemergent.com for more information on how we can help you strategize and achieve organizational goals.

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