July 2015

Pareto Principle Applied to Productivity – What Is A Leadership HPA?

By Tom Deierlein

'Every minute you spend in planning saves 10 minutes in execution; this gives you a 1000% Return on Energy!' —Brian Tracy

Many people have heard of the Pareto Principle. Also known as the 80/20 rule. In sales I was taught that 80% of your sales come from 20% of your clients. In quality control, I was taught it represents the most common sources of defects or the highest occurring type of defect. In client services, 80% of a company's complaints come from 20% of its customers. In finance, 80% of profits come from 20% of products. The applications go on and on. So what does this have to do with leadership—or productivity?

Well, the Pareto Principle is also known as the "law of the vital few." It creates focus. The purpose of any Pareto analysis is to point out those vital few areas to focus on or to improve. It is where you get "the most bang for your buck" as the saying goes. The clients, the products, the processes, etc. Well, activities are no different. These 20% of activities that deliver 80% of your results are known as your HIGH PAYOFF ACTIVITIES. HPA's. The goal of any leader—or anyone for that matter—is to spend the maximum amount of time on HPA's—those specific actions and activities that contribute the most to results. It is not easy.

There are many, many articles out there that talk about how to get more done in less time and how to find more time in your day. But here we are exploring how to ensure you are doing the RIGHT things with the precious time you have or additional time you created. These activities are your HPA's.

Getting the RIGHT things done is being effective. Getting them done with the least amount of energy or resources and in the right order is being efficient. HPA's are about being efficient. In his classic book, 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey described this process as "putting first things first." You need to self-manage to organize and execute around your priorities. Those key activities he called "Quadrant II Activities — Not Urgent but Important". Here we call them HPAs.

So how do you find your HPA's?

Your HPA's are the specific things you do each day to ensure the success of the organization. They answer the questions:

Step 1. Start with confirming your job description and priorities with your boss. This ensures alignment at least one level up. It will help if you also have some well-defined short, medium and long term SMART Goals you develop with your boss as well.

Step 2. Using this information, write the specific actions you do that contribute. Use ACTION verbs be able to articulate what those are so that it is clear to you and others that you are doing them or not doing them. For example, if you are a sales representative your #1 HPA is spending time face to face with clients and prospects. It is clear to you whether you are in front of a client/prospect or not. If you are a trainer, your #1 HPA is conducting training. Seems simple, but it must be very clear whether you are engaged in that activity or not. If you are a technical writer—at the end of the day, you either have written three pages or not. If you are a pilot, you are either flying a plane or you are not. If you are a data scientist you are working with numbers, testing a new equation, or not. If you are a mechanic you are fixing an engine or not. You get the point. Clean, clear, simple sentences with an action verb. Write down 5-10. Certainly not more.

Step 3. Prioritize. Rank or prioritize the HPA's you listed. What is the #1 most important thing you do to contribute? What is the #2? What is the #3 and so on. Those are your HPA's. If you are a leader, these should appear in this list:

If you are a leader, your HPA's are the intersection of what your team should be doing and the goals and objectives set by your boss and company.

Step 4. Seek to delegate other items that make you busy but aren't the most important activities you could be doing. Step 4 can also be confirming with your boss. An ongoing dialogue and buy-in from your supervisor is critical.

This is a good start—but actually this is just the easy part. HPA's have a dark side. Or the flipside of Pareto, 80% of our activities produce only 20% of our results, these are low pay-off activities—LPA's. A great leader will self-manage, and have the discipline, and establish the routine to regularly plan their day and week. They will constantly question whether they are engaged in HPA's—those things that produces the greatest results. As a leader, you must be almost maniacal and obsessive about whether every member of your team is as well. Work with your team to ensure they understand their HPA's and are doing them and not "busy work". You must get them the resources they need and remove obstacles as well as distractions.

If you get to the end of a day or week and say "I was super busy but got nothing done" you fell into the LPA trap. If you and your team document in writing your HPA's and discuss regularly how they contribute to higher performance and goal achievement, it gets much easier to say "No" to LPA's, busy work, and distractions. Imagine if you and your team now spent 30% of your time on HPA's instead of 20%, or even 40-50% — your productivity and performance would explode!