The 10-80-10 Principle: Unlocking Dynamic Performance
Sunjay Nath, Pocketbook, 2011
Reviewed by Johny Van Aerde, MD, PhD
During the 2018 Canadian Conference on Physician Leadership, keynote speaker Sanjay Nath had the audience laughing as he comically unpacked the content of his book, The 10-80-10 Principle. In 57 pages, he combines a modified 80-20 Pareto concept with elements of the Influencer framework.1
According to the 10-80-10 principle, any group or organization can be divided into three groups based on their behaviour: people who share an organization’s goals, people who don’t share them, and people who are looking for direction. Although the numbers can vary and are more relative than absolute, the first group forms the top 10%, the second group is the bottom 10%, leaving an 80% majority group with no real direction in the middle.
Belonging to one group or another doesn’t mean that you are “good” or “bad”: the categories are based on behaviour, not
personality traits. Therefore, the 10-80-10 principle can also be applied to any social gathering, family, sport team, and even to behaviours of one’s self.
For leaders, the key is to focus on the 10% already supporting the organization or you, as they can be your champions to influence the 80% who are looking for direction. Directly targeting the bottom 10% is an ineffective strategy, as they are probably set in their thinking and behaviour and require too much time and energy to be influenced to change. Although influencing the majority 80% is important, the resources needed to reach such a large group are limited. For that middle group to drive momentum, they need a catalyst, which is where the top 10% comes in. Once that army of champions has influenced the 80% majority, 90% of the entire group is on board. At that point, you can go after the bottom 10%, which is likely to subdivide into followers and those who will abandon the cause or organization altogether.
The end of this book, how to apply the 10-80-10 principle, is a little weak and deals with awareness, choice, and time. The strength of the book lies in its main message: that we often waste time on the 10% who cannot be influenced anyway and that we are much better off to work with the top 10% by using them as champions to help influence the large middle group.
1.Patterson K, Grenny J, Maxfield D, McMillan R, Switzler A. Influencer. Toronto: McGraw-Hill; 2013.
Johny Van Aerde, MD, MA, PhD, FRCPC, is editor-in-chief of the Canadian Journal of Physician Leadership and a former president of the Canadian Society of Physician Leaders.