Whether you are working with a client, putting together a reporting package, networking with potential theory, or closing the books, there’s a rule you can apply to make your life easier. This rule is probably one that you’re very familiar with – regardless of whether you practice it. When you are completing a job, there always seems to be a few things that push the needle further than anything else. This is the 80/20 rule.
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Simply put, the 80/20 rule is where 20% of the work results in 80% of the outcome. Likewise, 80% of the work only results in 20% of the outcome. While the numbers may not be spot on, the theory holds true in pretty much everything you do.
In the early 20th century, Vilfredo Pareto, an Italian economist, introduced this concept to explain the distribution of wealth in his home country – Italy. It first came about when roughly 20% of his pea pods made 80% of the total number of peas grown. As he continued to test this theory, he expanded it into other areas of macroeconomics (wealth distribution). Then roughly 30 years later, Joseph Juran applied the 80/20 rule to business production methods. He explained this rule “the vital few and the trivial many.”
Many may argue that it’s not exactly 80/20, and you would be correct. It may even be 99/1 if you look at a particular situation. But as we demystify the 80/20 rule, we need to be thinking from a macro viewpoint. What is the minimal amount of work you can do to result in the most work.
As the financial leader of your company, it’s so important to know what pushes the proverbial needle forward the most. Look at your team, your fulfillment, your customers, your vendors. Then look at your role in the company. What work can you do that will result in bigger and better outcomes? Identify the work that takes up the most time without providing much. You may consider having a lower level employee work on those tasks. If that 80% work is too sensitive, then restructure your day to allow for the most time sensitive issues to be front and center.
Who are your best customers? They are the ones who pay their invoices on time, don’t require extra time from your team, and never complain. They are also your most profitable customers. These customers are your 20%ers, and they make up 80% of your revenue!
But then, there are those customers who you dread receiving a call from because you know it’s going to be yet another complaint. These unprofitable customers suck your time, resources, and money. They make up 80% of your customer support/implementation/sales. Yet, because they take advantage of you, they only result in 20% of the company’s revenue (and less in profit). If you are overrun by profitable customers, you may want to think about firing that customer.
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If you desire for your team to be more productive, then you need to start with yourself. A fish rots from the head down. Start by analyzing your to do list. Are there a few things that will make a big difference? If so, prioritize those over everything else. Remember, not everything on your to do list will have the same impact or risk. A great way to assess the weight of each task is to use “tags” labeled: non-essential, essential, and critical. Are you chasing administrative tasks or completing the same tasks over and over? Ask yourself whether those can be automated or if a less expensive employee can complete them.
There are so many squirrels that you could chase! There’s a million ideas that are all million-dollar ideas. But what do you need to do to meet your goals? If you continue to get bogged down by things in the 80% pile, then you risk never reaching your or your company’s goals. You need to be more productive, more streamlined. Although many see automation as a risk, we see it as an opportunity to force ourselves to be more productive.
When you apply the 80/20 rule to your leadership and workspace, you become more productive. You are then able to see clearly what is going to push the needle further. In our experience, our client’s experience, and our vendor’s experience, there are just a few indicators that hold much more weight. Think about it this way… If you listed everything you need to improve, you would never get it all done. You simply don’t have enough time to do everything! But you do have enough time to focus on the 20% and reap the 80%.
An effective financial leader leads from the 40,000 foot level. If you only look at an issue 2 inches away, then you are going to miss what’s causing it, what it’s impacting, etc. A good leader needs the entire picture before they make a decision for the company. This also helps you guide your CEO. Click here to download the 7 Habits of Highly Effective CFOs to find out how you can become a valuable financial leader.