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.