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2-6-2 Rule

May 13th, 2009 by Forum Corporation
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By André Alphonso, Managing Director, Forum India

During the course of my working life I have been influenced by many mentors. One of these mentors shared with me what he called his “2-6-2 Rule.”  It changed my thinking.  Let me share it with you:

This mentor of mine was a medic in Vietnam.  After a battle he and his team would fly in on helicopter gunships to evacuate the wounded.  These gunships could carry only a few people.  In this dramatic and chaotic environment my mentor had to quickly assess the situation and then place people into three categories:  a) those people who would live without his help; b) those who would die regardless of whether he helped them or not; and c) those who would survive only because of his help.  His focus was then on evacuating the people in the last category first.

My mentor drew a parallel between his experience in Vietnam and what he observed about the way that leaders behave in their work with their people.  His 2-6-2 Rule essentially relates to any group of people in which 20 percent are high performers, 60 percent are performers in the middle, and 20 percent are low/marginal performers.  The top 20 percent of high performers perform well regardless of their manager; the 20 percent of low/marginal performers drag their feet regardless of their manager; the third and biggest group, the 60 percent in the middle, only improve their performance because of the skills and behaviours of their manager.  However, my mentor observed that most managers get it wrong, by putting their focus and energy into the 20 percent at the top and the 20 percent at the bottom.  The people in the biggest group of 60 percent in the middle are largely left to their own devices.  My own observations and experience with leaders over many years bears testament to this.  The real focus should of course be on the largest group:  focus on those individuals who will only improve because of the intervention of their manager.

In the June 2003 Harvard Business Review, Thomas DeLong and Vineeta Vijayaraghavan’s groundbreaking article “Let’s Hear It for B Players” very clearly brought out the importance of focusing on this middle 60 percent.  In July 2008, DeLong and Vijayaraghavan again wrote about the importance of B players in a weak economy:  particularly in difficult times these “supporting actors” supply the stability, knowledge, and ballast that boosts organizational resilience and performance.

If you are a leader, think about the week that just passed and where your focus and energy were directed:  to A, B or C players?  What have you done to support those who will only survive because of your help?