The Pareto Principle

Pareto-PrincipleHave you ever noticed how some people, successful people, often seem to be less stressed and seem to have more time on their hands despite the fact that they get through more work? Somehow, they manage to focus on the key essentials of whatever they are doing. Well, they may be applying the Pareto Principle. The what?

Otherwise known as the 80:20 rule it was named for the Italian researcher Vilfredo Pareto who, in the late 19th Century, discovered that 80% of Italy’s land was owned by 20% of the population. Allegedly he also found that 80% of the peas he collected form his garden came from 20% of the pods he collected!

Subsequently many other examples of the basic principle have been highlighted, including:


  • 80% of a company’s profits come from 20% of its customers
  • 80% of a company’s complaints come from 20% of its customers
  • 80% of a company’s profits come from 20% of the time its staff spend
  • 80% of a company’s sales come from 20% of its products
  • 80% of a company’s sales are made by 20% of its sales staff

Now this is simply a rule of thumb, a helpful heuristic that gets you focussing on the important stuff. It’s not even necessarily and 80:20 division, maybe 95% of your sales income comes from 5% of your customers. They don’t even have to add up to 100, maybe 90% of your accidents come from 4% of potential causes.

The point is, and I wish I had known this when I was starting out, is that you need to find the crux of the problem or task you are facing and apply most of your effort to that. Prioritise the important bits and the bits that are easy to resolve and avoid the trap that so many under-performers fall into of making excellent the enemy of good.


Things I wish I had known when starting out

Turn UpAdvice for new starters to the world of work.It is a long time now since I started work, 46 years to be precise, and it was a very different world back in 1968 when I first pulled on a lab coat and started shaking test tubes for a living. I was musing the other day on what might have changed and what hasn’t altered in those years. Here are a few of those thoughts, especially about what has not changed. I rather wish that I had known some of these things when i first started out.

  • The Pareto principle
  • The boss is not always right and the boss is (nearly) always right
  • Have a go at the hard stuff
  • People matter
  • Know when to stamp your foot
  • It is amazing what you can achieve if it doesn’t matter who gets the credit
  • When you set a deadline, mean it
  • Choose your battles carefully

Over the next couple of weeks I will be writing a short piece about each of them, but let me start with the most important of them all “Turn up”.

So what do I men by “Turn Up“?

Well we are paid to turn up for work, but I mean much more than that. Have you ever found yourself not really wanting to go, but feel that you have to? Have you ever found yourself distracted during the day (Facebook, Twitter, Shopping List, that attractive young guy/girl along the corridor) only to find that your attention to what you are doing has drifted? Have you ever wandered off to the copier or stationery store as a distraction from what you were doing? Answer ‘Yes’ to any of these and you were not Turning Up.

For me, Turning Up means giving my total attention to whatever it is that I am doing at the time – be that saying hello to my co-workers, writing a report, researching some data, whatever. Multitasking is a myth – the best we can do is switch between different tasks and every time you do that you lose a bit of time ‘shutting down’ what you were doing and ‘starting up’ what you are going to do – wasted time and a brain that can’t quite figure out what it should be working on.

So, when you are at work, BE at work. When you are with someone BE WITH them. When you are working alone WORK alone. And finally, when you have finished for the day GO HOME and be at home.

7 thoughts for introvert and extrovert leaders

 I saw this earlier today and hope that The NHS Leadership Academy does not mind me recycling it!

7 thoughts for introvert
and extrovert leaders

To celebrate Carl Jung’s birthday – the originator of the theory that (allegedly) led to what most people now know as MBTI – here are seven thoughts for introvert and extrovert leaders…
Extrovert leaders Introvert leaders
1. Often speak first and think later – so be careful to stop talking and listen to others 1. Often think first and speak later – so be careful not to miss the moment to make your point
2. Can prefer to talk things through – and sometimes it’s better to think through your message first 2. Can prefer to be alone with their thoughts – so sometimes remember to engage people
3. Get energised from being with others – and, remember for some tasks you need quiet concentration 3. Get energised from being alone – and, remember to get out and about
4. Tend to spend energy when working alone – so find time to recharge with people and dialogue 4. Tend to spend energy when with others – so find time to recharge on your own
5. Like to get and give praise in public – and sometimes the team want your feedback in private 5. Like to get and give praise in private – and sometimes the team want to celebrate together
6. Can prefer to communicate by talking – and your team sometimes prefer a considered email to an immediate speech 6. Can prefer to communicate in writing – and remember, your team want to see and hear you
7. Like to dive in immediately – so check yourself sometimes and hold back a bit 7. Like to hold back and wait – so push yourself sometimes to dive right in

NHS Leadership Academy

NHS Leadership Academy, Leeds, UK

Making sense of accountability, responsibility, politics, matrix

Matrix management I once had a role where I was responsible to one person for ‘pay and rations’ and most of my job, his boss for a small but significant and that person’s boss for another very significant part of my role. You might imagine the complexity of relationships involved in this and the challenges that I faced.

I wish that I had known about some of the stuff in this  Training Journal article june 2015

Most of us spend our lives in hierarchies where the (formal) power structures are clear and understandable, however the increasing prevalence of other organisational forms, not least the ‘matrix’ often used in consultancies of one sort or another, lead to challenges in understanding how to make them work.

My friend Dave Bancroft-Turner has spent many years understanding how to make non-traditional organisational structures work. This article from Training Journal gives and insight. If you want to know more then contact either me or Dave at The Academy for Political Intelligence


tumble weedIn this article, I want to explore one of the most fundamental aspects of our universe – entropy. Entropy can be described in equation form:


But please stay with me, because I am more interested in the everyday understanding of the term, sometimes defined as:

“…a measure of disorder in the universe…”

In physics, the Law of Entropy essentially says that all systems, if left unattended, will run down. Unless new energy is supplied, every organism deteriorates. Things tend towards the lowest energy state – iron rusts, organic material rots, the pile of leaves in the garden (that you have so carefully raked together) redistributes itself widely, offices and homes become more and more untidy… unless energy is committed to maintaining or ‘improving’ the status quo.

So what has this got to do with you? Well, if you look at the concept in a different way, the same law applies to individuals and both personal and professional relationships.

How many of us have friends or colleagues who just seem to have drifted off our ‘live’ circle? Unless we put some effort into the important relationships in our life they will inevitable decay, sometimes terminally.

Likewise, unless I put effort into myself I will end up drifting along being buffeted like that tumbleweed in the old Western films. Albert Schweitzer once wrote that some people “harm their souls… without being exposed to great temptations. They simply let their souls wither, not realising that thoughts which meant a great deal to them in their youth, have turned into meaningless sounds.”

My challenge today is to spend some time thinking about, and then acting upon, how you are going to nourish yourself and those you hold to be important to you. Maybe, as a start, you could construct a relationship map. Relationship mapping is a way of pictorially representing the key elements and issues in your team:

  • Write your name in a circle at the centre of the page
  • Also circle the names of your team members, your boss(es), colleague(s), key external contact(s) and other individuals with whom you have regular contact
    • Put arrows to and from each individually, and indicate:
    • the current strength of the relationship with the thickness of the line
    • the importance (to you and your role) of the relationship with the length of the line
    • what you need from them and what they need from you in brief bullet points next to each arrow
  • You may wish to use other colours/symbols to represent other aspects of the relationship.
  • You might also want to highlight any relationships between the others on the map.


Remember that if YOU want something out of a relationship, then it is up to YOU to do something about it – otherwise it will wither and die.

Who am I?

Who am I?
The search for enlightenment

The simple answer might be ‘Geoff Roberts’, but that is just a name. There are plenty of other Geoff Roberts’ in the world and even plenty of Geoffrey Malcolm Roberts’ – there you go, did you know my middle name or even that I had one? Yes, the name is somehow part of who I am, and I will happily answer to Big G, Big Geoff or in my early schooldays Kangaroo Kid (I could put together a mean long or high jump in primary school).

‘Who am I?’ prompts a somewhat deeper search for identity. A cook, a son, a husband, a stepfather, and brother, a facilitator, a writer and many more to greater or lesser levels of accomplishment. These too are part of who I am, yet really they are things that I do. Yes, the fact that I choose to do (most of) then gives insight but ultimately I may choose not to do any of them and yet I still exist. They are no more me than that name.

Being somewhat antipathetic to religions of any sort I cannot fall back on “A child of God” or whatever label followers adopt. Nor does atheism, especially the radical Richard Dawkins variety, offer much hope; indeed the question itself might be ruled out of order in favour of a more prosaic ‘What am I?’ – a collection of chemicals that somehow randomly came together in the past and found a way to propagate themselves into the future.

So, if not my actions or my beliefs, then am I my thoughts? I hope not. Who can deny at least occasionally having the odd inappropriate thought pop into consciousness, only to be promptly quashed by that internal editor who functions inside our heads? Maybe I am that editor? The usually invisible and occasionally conscious process that guides which thoughts persist into action, which generate ongoing thoughts and which are stopped in their very emergence. This is a guide who steers me towards what has previously been found to be effective, safe etc., which sometimes enables my mind and my body to experiment and which occasionally just says STOP!

This is a moral filter at work – ‘Thou shalt not kill, paedophilia is wrong, respect other people’s property…’ And it is also a practical, life serving one – don’t jump off things without a rope or a parachute, don’t slit your wrists just to experience the feeling of oxygen deprivation…

Of course all of this is learned – babies are fearless, we learn our moral code from our role models and those role models can just as easily be bad as good. What matters to us changes with life experiences.

So, who am I? Surely I am more than a collection of neurons.

An interesting question – what is the best leadership book?

I was just paying my bill after a rather nice lunch, whilst at the same time reading Tools And Techniques Of Leadership And Management by Ralph Stacey.

Stacey “That looks interesting, do you know anything about leadership?” said the young guy serving me.

I explained that I had offered to review the book and was finding it so interesting that I was reading it in detail rather than the broader skim that reviewing normally requires. I will be posting a review of the book in due course, suffice it to say that I am finding it extremely stimulating, relevant and ‘on the mark’ as regards leadership today and effecting change in organisations.

We had a bit of an interchange and then this guy asked “So what do you think is the best leadership book?” “Well” I said “give me a minute to have a think about that” and so he went away.

Now it is of course a totally unanswerable question, not only because of the tens of thousands of leadership books out there but also because of the best depends not only on my own judgement but his own needs. So when he came back we had a brief conversation about the difference between leadership and management (yet another blog will be exploring whether this distinction really exists) and how, in my view, leadership is partly about what you do and even more about who and how you are. I have a proposition that the way to become more effective leader is to become a bigger and better me – role models may be useful, but they are all different and if you do manage to isolate the common attributes of Margaret Thatcher, Gandhi, Richard Branson, Hitler, Jesus etc. then you end up with a minimum entry requirements to leadership rather than the difference that makes the difference.

So in the end I recommended two titles, books that have had a great impact on me. The first was Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits Of Highly Effective People and the second JS Bach’s Jonathan Livingston Seagull.

7 Habits  JLS

Two very different books and yet books that I know from my own personal experience have helped me become a better me.

I would be interested to know how you would response to a similar question.

Dealing with crises – a book review

Bolt from the BlueBolt from the Blue    by Mike Pullen and John Brodie Donald

This book explores approaches to crisis management.

Find out how balancing a broomstick on the end of your finger is relevant to crisis management, explore how the horsemeat in beefburger scandal is essentially the same as the CDO scandal that triggered the economic crisis and learn about how Donald Rumsfeld perhaps knew more than we think about the relationship between those classic Greek actors Scylla and Charybdis
The authors subtitle “Navigating the New World of Corporate Crises’ is relevant insofar as communications media and processes are more or less instant these days and so crises can erupt unexpectedly from the strangest of quarters– very different from when it took weeks to let Queen Victoria know that we had beaten the Boers. These instant communications channels offer/create challenges that are new to most companies, as is amply demonstrated in the host of case studies (perhaps a few too many, or explored in too much detail, for the practicing manager, who wants to know about ACTION) presented in support of the authors’ prescriptions:

  • Five key principles of crisis management
        • Don’t deny anything before you know all the facts
        • Your response time must be faster than the speed of the story
        • When the crisis hits bring in external consultants
        • Change the culture not just the policies
        • Be patient, recovery takes time

The bulk of the book explores, through extensive use of case studies, how crises can arise as a result of:

      • Six potential instigators of crises
        • Suppliers
        • Regulators
        • NGOs
        • Customers
        • Competitors
        • Employees

The book started as an easy and interesting read, but seemed to peter out about half way through when it became more descriptive than prescriptive. It would offer some useful insights to internal PR professionals and to the most senior management in any company although reading the Introduction and Chapter 1 alone would offer the most advice, the rest is a series of illustrations of how crises can arise.

“Network Advantage” – a book review

Network AdvantageI was delighted to review this book as part of the CMI Management Book of the Year competition. Here is what I offered:

This book delivers amply on the sub-title of “How To Unlock Value From Your Alliances And Partnerships”. Building on 40 years of well-referenced research, it links research findings with case studies from several industries before building valuable insights into different types of alliance, different levels of advantage, how to decide what pattern is appropriate for your company, then to construct, manage and unbundle your alliances. It guides the reader through a set of tools designed to help them understand and reap advantage from their company’s alliances. Whilst speaking of formal organisational alliances rather than networks, many of the concepts would be relevant in building and using your corporate or private networks more effectively.

Moving from vertical or horizontal integration to effective networks/alliances is a direction of travel for today’s organisations and managers of the future would do well to read this and explore how alliances will help their organisation. This book may not offer anything revolutionary but it is certainly revelationary in the way the prospects of real world organisations are analysed in terms of their alliance strategies.

Aimed at larger companies rather than SMEs, this is a ‘must read’ if your company needs the help/co-operation/support of others to succeed.

Followership – what makes a good follower?

Followership  LeadershipThere are millions of pages read about how to be a good leader – just type both into Google and you are likely to get around 288,000,000 hits for Leadership and ‘only’ 472,000 for Followership. Moreover, from a cursory look at the topic, it seems that much of what is written is designed to inform Leaders about how they can garner better/more followers!

So, I am interested in how I can be the best follower I can be – given the leader I have (and I recognise that ‘my leader’ may change from moment to moment, task to task, environment to environment etc).

As an input to an enquiry at Roffey Park, where I am an Associate, I wrote a ramble on the topic. I repeat it below and welcome your thoughts, additions, criticisms, whatever – just say what comes into your mind as you read it…

You asked what I might like to contribute on the topic of followership. Truth is that I do not have any ‘theoretical’ inputs to offer and, as I said when I originally expressed an interest, this is one of those areas in which I have had a passing interest the many years without the opportunity to develop that interest into something more structured. Hence the willingness to participate in the group that you lead.

When I think about it, I find it extremely difficult to disentangle what it means to be a good leader from what it means to be a good follower. Perhaps this might be addressed by looking at, on the one hand, what a follower expects from their leader and, on the other, at what a leader expects of their followers. This might seem like a classic statement of the bleeding obvious but in my experience it has been rather rare to find a leader who expounds, either privately or publicly, what they expect of their followers; likewise, it is probably a very brave follower who advises their leader what they expect of them!

Whilst I might like to stay away from leadership, it is perhaps rather difficult in this context and so the following points are necessarily an incomplete expounding of my thoughts-incomplete in terms not only of the list of topics but also the explanation of that list.

Firstly, and perhaps above all, I expect a good leader to communicate effectively and I guess that puts an obligation on the followers to let of their leader know, in one way or another, when they are not being communicated with. I vividly remember a time when, in retrospect, I had the priorities of my job out of sync with the immediate needs of my staff. I was spending an increasing amount of time away from the office on strategically important stuff and came home one day to find a post-it stuck to my desk simply saying “Geoff you are no longer available”. This brought home to me more than any textbook or classroom exercise the importance of availability and communication when the followers needed it. Fortunately the relationship I had with my team was such that not only did they feel able to leave this message but they also knew that I would take it in the spirit intended.

I expect my leader to be open and honest with me, even if that occasionally means saying the equivalent of “I’m sorry but I can’t talk about that at the moment”. As a follower I must accept that there are occasions when my leader might be involved in delicate or confidential conversations which it would be inappropriate to disclose at the time. For me, the followership version of openness and honesty centres around not hiding the bad news from my leader as well as disclosing my feelings as well as thoughts about what is going on. I cannot expect them to lead effectively if they do not have the full picture.

This whole communications game has a feeling of being a dance, in which each party has to find out what the other party needs to know and passes such information along appropriately. Which brings me to another aspect of leadership and followership-communication style. As a follower I think there is an onus on me to find out not only what my leader needs to know but also how he wants to find it out. Does he want detailed written weekly reports or is he happy with a quick chat on the phone every Friday afternoon? My own style, generally discursive and flowery, caused some considerable tension between me and one of my bosses until I realised that his approach was very terse and factual-after which I changed my style and things became much easier.

Where there is a legitimate difference of opinions I expect my leader to represent that difference to other parties, rather than simply putting their own view forward. In return, I must commit as a follower to the principle of corporate responsibility and not undermine decisions taken by my own and other leaders.

The next thought that comes to mind relates to trust. As a follower I want to be left alone to get on with my own work knowing that my leader is there if necessary for help and advice. Reciprocity suggests that as a follower I must trust that my leader is doing his work on my behalf.

“I think there is an important area in followership to do with learning when to give up a particular battle. This could they simply because you recognise that the battle you are currently engaged in is simply not winnable, or it could be because of a recognition that giving up on the current battle releases resources to fight on more strategic fronts. The effective leader can guide the followers in this, but ultimately it is for each follower to make their own decision about where to put their resources.

I think I might also argue that an effective follower recognises that on occasions the boss might need help, even when the boss themselves might not have made such a recognition. I used to have a follower who was very good at taking things off me once they got past the initiation and into production phase-they did this because they knew where my strengths lay (not in production mode) and how theirs could complement me. Another aspect of this that might not be recognised very often is the loneliness of being a leader. I would not know whether to label it mentoring, coaching, counselling or what, but I am certain that an effective follower knows when their boss needs some form of support and is prepared and able to offer that support.

A good follower knows and respects the leader’s short, medium and long-term priorities and does not pester them with issues outside that envelope unless the follower can demonstrate the strategic importance of their issue.”