Being Great at Work

A David Goggins quote appeared on my Instagram Reels this morning:

“Out of the hundred men that go to war, ten shouldn’t be there. Eighty of them are just targets. Nine do most of the fighting. One is a warrior. It is a true quote to life. I saw it going throughout training. I saw everywhere I went. Some so many people just show up to life that shouldn’t even be around. And there are a few people who do all the work. I wanted to be part of that nine, and I’m working towards being that one.”

David Goggins

I think that we often experience similar at work. 10% of people should not be there and usually remain due to poor management, conflict avoidance, or it can be easier to leave someone doing a poor job than the effort it takes to go through the dismissal process. The sad part is that 10% of people might be happier and more productive in a more suitable role.

80% of people turn up, do what is asked of them, and then go home, not ever going above and beyond or making significant innovations or impact but getting work done. 9% make a real difference, introducing new ways of doing things, volunteering for tough jobs, being prepared, staying late, and going above and beyond what is required.

Then there is the 1%, the people that impact not only the company or institution but the field or sector they work in, the key people of influence that push things forward and make lasting change. These people are wholly committed to their work and improving themselves and those around them to change the world.

Price’s Law

Price’s law states that 50% of the work is by the square root of the total number of people participating. So, the more employees a company has, the smaller the proportion of people that genuinely make a difference. According to the observations documented in Price’s Law:

  • In a micro company (up to 9 people), 50% of the results would be generated by up to three people. 
  • In a small business (10-49 people), half the results would be generated by up to seven people. 
  • In a medium-sized company (50-249), roughly 50% of the results would be generated by 16 people.
  • In a large business (over 250 employees) where the average employee number was around 1300 in 2021, half the results would be generated by just 36 employees.

The Good News

The good news is that if you want to progress, you can strive to be one of the nine employees and work and then gain the competencies and mindset to be that one in a hundred. 

The first step is quantity. If you have been smart enough to pick an industry that operates more or less as a meritocracy, you can start by working longer than everyone else. This might be easier than it sounds; according to multiple studies, the average person only productively works for 2-3 hours per day in a full-time job. If you can build up to six hours of highly productive work, you could produce twice the output within a standard 35-40 hour week.  

The next step is to understand the game you are playing within your industry. If you are an academic, that would be referenced research papers. A salesperson would be the revenue generated etc. Once you produce more than everyone else, you can target the specific output you are developing in this extra time to win the game. 

Finally, you can optimise your work through systems and processes to produce more of what matters within the same period. 

Hard questions

It is a tricky question to ask ourselves. Our egos do not want to admit if we are one of the 80% and not a top performer. I recently talked with one of my managers about Price’s law. I saw the blood drain from her face as she contemplated if she were one of the roughly seven people in our team of 50 people generating 50% of the results. She is, and by the fact you are reading a blog like this, you probably are one of your company’s top performers, as ordinary people don’t read stuff like this for fun.

Take some time to think about this, and then get a pen and paper out to make a plan:

  1. How many hours are you actually productive in the workday? (be brutally honest) How can you get this up to six hours?
  2. What game are you playing in your industry? What can you do to play better and win?
  3. How can you use systems and processes to optimise your outputs within your six productive hours?