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  • Writer's pictureShandy Welch

Focus on the 90%




Sometimes what seems so small at first glance has the capability of taking down an entire ship, think of the Titanic. Who would have imagined that a seemingly small iceberg would have that capacity to sink the greatest vessel of its time?

One of the biggest failures of organizations and teams is only to look at the obvious. I strongly believe that it is this very notion that takes down most teams and leads to dysfunction, resentment, and disengagement.

On a more positive note, if you take the time to look beneath the surface you will appreciate the behaviors, attitudes, and drive that holds the team together. It is here that we need to focus. We focus attention on the tangible and visible needs of our organization, and once those are attended to we move on, neglecting the foundational infrastructure that hides quietly beneath the surface. The key to sustained success and of which all future success depends.

It is estimated that only 10% of an iceberg is above the water leaving 90% unseen, yet it is that 90% that creates and determines the strength and stability of the ice above. I would argue that most organizational work is focused on the 10%. The sales numbers, the ROI, and the product. This is all the 10%. In reality, what makes this possible is the 90% beneath, holding together and creating a culture of success.

I have led many teams over the years and it is easy to predict which ones will have sustained success and which ones will crash and burn in a few years. It is never about the protocols, best practices, and tangible processes that are implemented, that can all be found on the internet. It is always about how you, as the leader, are supporting your team and the investment in a person who will continue to hold accountability and attention to detail long after the processes are in place

It is the attention to detail, small events, attitude and the celebration of small successes, it is the development of trust and a common vision. When the 90% is ignored or begins to slip, the integrity of the team crumbles.

I remember coaching a new leader and after a year I asked him what was the most important thing he learned or implemented. His answer: “Walking the halls each day with no agenda but to connect with whomever I encounter” This was something I suggested he do daily as it was what I did before and credit to my success. At the time he thought I was crazy for the suggestion, he had better things to do and was overwhelmed with work. Despite this, he tried it and it turned out to be well worth the investment of time. Each day he had the opportunity to connect in real-time, to see and feel what his coworkers were experiencing, he built trust and connection with consistency. He was also able to catch problems early, clarify communications, and became an integral part of the team.

I am amazed at how many organizations ask for a quick motivational talk or a two-day retreat to realign and excite employees but never think to invest in the follow-through. The mentoring, the coaching, the person who is responsible to hold the team accountable for the new insights and vision. Predictably, after a big push for innovation, the excitement wanes and it is business as usual. The retreats and motivational talks are great but that is the 10%, that is the fun sexy part, the real work is the daily grind, the accountability, the uncomfortable conversations that lead to connection and insight.

It is easy to let up on the gas when things are great but I promise you, as soon as you turn away, the chips will begin to fall.

A healthy and thriving culture is an investment, an investment that is worth its weight in gold. I urge you to invest in the 90% by allowing time for conversation. Walk the halls. Assigning one person the responsibility and giving them time to follow up on the small things before they get big.

My Challenge to You:

  • Commit to ten minutes for the next five days “walking the halls”, in person or virtually, get in front of your team with no agenda but to connect and learn. How has this changed your perspective?

  • Look at how you have assigned work, is there someone who is responsible for the details? Someone who continues to push for excellence and never lets up!

  • Allow the time to accomplish the 90%.


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