Karin’s Leadership Articles

How To Break the 80 20 Rule: Getting Past Pareto For Better Results

How to Break the 80 20 Rule: Getting Past Pareto For Better Results

by | Mar 14, 2013 | By Karin Hurt, Results & Execution |

According to the 80 20 Rule, 20% of your team is carrying 80% of the load. If that’s the case, 80% could do substantially more. If you’re like many managers I meet, you might be tempted to throw up your hands and accept the Pareto Principle as a given. After all, you’ve got your rock stars, and others seem to be interested in doing just enough to keep their jobs.

Of course, your performance management structure counts on these slackers to make for a nice bell curve. So if your goal is to maintain a performance distribution for an easier stack rank, you can let Pareto win.

But if you want to really win well, buck the Pareto principle by engaging the rest of your team and smoking your results.

Here’s the thing. If the 80 20 rule is true, you could be leading more effectively.

You can debate with HR on performance distribution on the back-end. You’ll have an easier argument when your results are on fire.

The 80 20 Rule: How to Beat the Odds

1. Dig deep into the top 20%

  • Understand the source of their commitment
  • Recruit your rock stars to inspire the rest of the team

2. Create a Passionate Rally Cry

  • Connect everyone to the vision
  • Put everyone in the game
  • Do the math, determine what you need EVERY person to do.
  • Communicate what you need from every member of the team.

3. Understand What Works

  •  Observe best practices
  •  Look for specific nuances
  •  Share stories
  • Model and Celebrate behaviors

4. Spend Time With the Outliers

  • Identify the skeptics
  • Understand their fears
  • Observe their behaviors
  • Celebrate turnarounds
  • Turn skeptics into teachers

5. Develop Skills and Confidence


If you’ve stumbled upon this post, you’ve found some of my earliest writing. You may also want to check out some of our newer writing or download some of our FREE tools to support your leadership journey.

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Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt helps human-centered leaders resolve workplace ambiguity and chaos, so that they can drive innovation, productivity and revenue without burning out employees. She’s the founder and CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders, an international leadership development and training firm known for practical tools and leadership development programs that stick. She’s the award-winning author of four books including Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul and a hosts the popular Asking For a Friend Vlog on LinkedIn. A former Verizon Wireless executive, Karin was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers. Karin and her husband and business partner, David Dye, are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells – building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.


  1. Eric Dingler (@EricDingler)

    Awesome list!!!

    Here are a couple things that can help after a leader has done what you suggest here.

    Stop asking in meetings for volunteers to take on task/assignments. I’ll often talk with an outlier before a meeting explaining an idea I have. I’ll ask if we decide at the meeting to move forward, would they be comfortable if I put them in charge.

    In group settings, rarely will I say, “What does anyone think about that?” I’ll say directly, “Jim, what do you think about that?” I keep mental “score” of who has contributed in a meeting and who hasn’t.

    I need to keep working on this though. I really want to keep studying this list for awhile. There is a lot here I need to improve on. Thank you for this post, it’s absolutely stellar.

  2. letsgrowleaders

    Eric, thanks so much! Those are both great adds. I am totally with you. It’s often about working with one persona at a time… off line.

  3. Stephen Melancon

    Great post, Karin!

    I completely agree with understanding what drives the top performers and recruiting them to motivate the team. I have had great success with top performers being the ambassadors of the vision.

    I think another aspect of this is adjusting your leadership on the individual level. You can have greater success when you develop relationships with individual team members and at some level “cater” to their style. Don’t misunderstand this. I’m not recommending that leaders cater to every wish of the employee. However, if a leader shows interest in the individual and is willing to bend on small things in their favor, the return on that investment can often deliver great results.

    Thanks for the post.

    • letsgrowleaders

      Stephen, thanks so much for joining the conversation! Great to see you here. Totally agree with you… meeting each person where they are is vital

  4. Dallas Tye

    Poor old Vilfredo, I don’t think he meant this rule to apply to everything 🙂

    I’d be a ‘plus one’ for point 4, ‘Spend Time With the Outliers’
    ,,, and with a particular focus on ‘Turn sceptics into teachers’.

    The more passionate the sceptic the bigger the reward when you ‘convert them’ in my experience delivering major change.

    I also like under #5, ‘Recognize every little win’.
    Emotion is the key to success and positive emotion is attractive. Its also healthy for us (which is also attractive) thus creative a virtuous cycle.

    (what a great time I’ve had via your posts today Karin, many thanks)


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