Fifty One Percent

fifty one percent 51%

I was recently watching one of the coolest reality TV shows called Shark Tank. The show gives entrepreneurs the chance to pitch their up-and-coming business to five millionaires/billionaires with the hopes of getting them to invest in their company. I love how quickly the conversations move and the bluntness of the questions and answers. In one episode, a lady was asking for thirty thousand dollars in exchange for ten percent of her company. One of the “sharks” replied that he’d give her thirty thousand in exchange for forty percent of her company. When she paused a moment to consider this (she looked a bit off-put by the offer), he further explained that he had originally thought to offer her the money in exchange for fifty-one percent of the company so that he could fire her if it didn’t work out.

That one stung. She didn’t bite on the deal and walked away without the money but with control in tact. That fifty-one percent is quite the magic number. It applies to far more than just stock shares though.

I’ve been noticing in my professional world lately that there is a big difference in the way people think about ownership of their responsibilities. Most of us are familiar with what falls under our job description, but few of us clearly know how that shapes the way we put in our efforts to get the job done.

Lately, I’ve observed numerous things that have misfired because of a simple execution step or follow up check that didn’t happen. I’ve been thinking a lot about how we own our responsibilities. While the difference between fifty percent and fifty-one percent is ever so slight (that’s one percent for those of you keeping score at home), this one percent is what makes all the difference when it comes to results. The contrast between the two is significant.

Fifty percent is the norm. This is what most of us do when we think of checking things off our list. What is it I need to get done and what is the fastest way to do it? We make sure to send the email or make the phone call. The response we get to this is irrelevant since we did our part. You end the day smugly pleased that the ball is in someone else’s court. You can’t do it all by yourself, right? Your to-do list looks fantastic. On the positive side, this thinking drives productivity and efficiency. On the negative side, this thinking drives the cover-my-butt type efforts that have more to do with you looking good and less to do with the final product. The negative side wins the majority of the time in this scenario.

Compare that with fifty-one percent. This is the rare person. What is it I need to get done and how can I make sure it is done right? We send the email and make the phone call but we don’t check it off our list until we ensure that we get the response that is needed. Your to-do list may not look as sexy, but your results will speak for themselves. Ultimately, the ball is always in your court until the job is completely finished. On the negative side, this thinking will lessen your efficiency (in the sense of time required to do your part). You will think more about your projects and will spend more time on them (all of one percent more). On the positive side, this thinking will cause your results to be dramatically better than those around you (far more than one percent better). The positive side wins all of the time in this scenario.

And there is the clincher: for one percent more effort you get dramatically greater results. Why don’t more people do it? Because they don’t think they need to. This extra one percent is counter-intuitive. Great leaders are always a bit off from the rest.

It’s usually hard for someone to put their finger on why the fifty-one percent person is able to accomplish what they are able. The answer is hard to believe: because of one percent of effort. It is primarily this one percent, not the other fifty percent that they bring, which allows them to rise above the rest. The tragedy is that most of us close up shop just before we’ve ensured great results. Most people don’t struggle to bring fifty percent to the table (the ones that do don’t last long at your organization). But the extra one percent sets a few above the rest.

How can you bring one percent more to what you are working on? Here are some ideas:

  • leave that to-do list item unchecked until you’ve guaranteed the results, not just your effort
  • double, triple, or quadruple check something so that you catch any mistakes before your supervisor does
  • have a follow up conversation to remind someone what you need from them (the squeaky wheel gets the grease, as they say)
  • invite someone else to check your work before you turn it in
  • communicate to others through multiple channels (combine email with a phone call and an in-person discussion)
  • instead of asking what is reasonable for you to do on a project, try to think through what the project needs to be the best it can

We wake up each morning and apply ourselves. For most of us it will be the fifty percent of what is needed. For those of us that will truly be effective, it will be one percent more.

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Jeremy Jernigan

This is the personal blog of Jeremy Jernigan husband, father, executive pastor, and student of truth

6 Comments

Michellej

about 2 years ago

Interesting idea especially since I love crossing things off a to do list and it really does make me feel good about myself...it's crazy how all the little things you do in your career, in parenting, in serving,etc can really make the difference between average and exceptional. Follow through follow through follow through!!!

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jeremy

about 2 years ago

Amen!

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Danita

about 2 years ago

I loved this article. I am one of the 51% and frankly have a difficult time understanding those who aren't. I have tried to drill it into my children and so far it seems to be working. Of the two who are out in the workforce, they do take that ownership but become increasingly frustrated with those who don't. I wonder if our current socioeconomic issues as a country has anything to do with that extra 1%. Thank you for shining a light on this subject.

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jeremy

about 2 years ago

Thanks for reading Danita!

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Justin Narducci

about 2 years ago

Interesting post, Jeremy. I have a slightly different take that I want you to consider: 51% allows someone to have majority ownership and therefore control of an interest. This is why the shark made the comment he did. At 50% he has neither. At 51% he has both. You say, "It’s usually hard for someone to put their finger on why the fifty-one percent person is able to accomplish what they are able. The answer is hard to believe: because of one percent of effort." I say that it isn't effort as much as it is a sense of ownership and control over what they are doing, which results in the effort needed to maintain the 'value' in their interest. It may sound like I'm mincing words here, but I'm not. To me, the critical question isn't 'how do we get people to have more effort' but it is rather, 'how do we get people to buy into what they are doing as 51% shareholders,' which will result in more effort and ultimately more satisfaction in what they are doing. What do you think?

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jeremy

about 2 years ago

I totally agree. I actually think you are saying the same thing in a different way. Really we are talking about people taking ownership of their projects that ultimately leads to the increased effort.

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