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Learn to manage the economic truth that 80% of your problems will come from 20% of your staff and 20% of your staff will account for 80% of the actual work getting done.

Viewpoint: The 80/20 principle in hospitality staffing

Learn to manage the economic truth that 80% of your problems will come from 20% of your staff and 20% of your staff will account for 80% of the actual work getting done.

This article does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editors or management of Food Management.

The 80/20 principle, also known as the Pareto Principle, has been applied to business countless times, including the hospitality industry. However, when the topic comes up, it usually focuses on cost of goods or item sales trends.

The 80/20 principle states approximately 80% of your outcome is driven by 20% of your input. This economic principle was introduced by an Italian economist named Vilfredo Pareto when he found 80% of land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population. He began applying this model to other countries and continued finding similar distribution, hence the name, "Pareto Principle.”

There is a great book aptly named "The 80/20 Principle," by Richard Koch, which I recommend everyone read. This book has shown me how it applies to all aspects of my life, from business to my wardrobe, to how I allocate my time with family and friends.

One of the greatest but rarely discussed uses is how the 80/20 principle applies to your staff. This principle can be applied to worker traits and give you a good idea of what roles your people will be best suited.

In the book we learn a Prussian general in the German Army had a way of categorizing his staff and selecting officers. He had four traits he could apply to his officers and they always possessed two of the four traits. (Please note, I intentionally replaced the general’s use of “stupid,” in the book with “naïve.” I understand what he was trying to convey, however, I do not think it is fair or necessary, because the people we tend to hire are very capable of learning and growing.)

Drawing a cross section of these four traits creates four category combinations: Clever/Hardworking, Naive/Hardworking, Clever/Lazy, Naive/Lazy. Most managers will find roughly 80% of staff falls into the Naïve/Lazy quadrant, while the other three make up the remaining 20%, with the smallest percentage of them being Clever/Lazy.

Managers must decide how to utilize this information, where to apply it and why.

Travis_Maynard.jpegPhoto: Travis G. Maynard

First, let's knock out the largest group of your organization. With Naive/Lazy making up 80% it is very important they are utilized wisely. These people are best tasked with mundane, repetitive work that is mostly done away from the front lines. Managers will find they can give these workers a task and they will work on it at their pace until it is completed.

In food & beverage and hospitality, people in this position usually handle prep work, dishwashing, end-of-shift cleaning, stocking inventory after it is received and similar tasks. This group is important to the function of the business but can mostly be left alone. In today’s pandemic world it is this group who can be tasked with disinfecting surfaces, refilling sanitizer dispensers, refilling spray bottles, and all the laborious and repetitious duties to safely serve guests in the COVID world of today.

The second group falls under the Clever/Hardworking category. These folks are extremely valuable and must be put in the correct role to be properly utilized. These staff members are great at following direction, putting plans into action and pay close attention to detail.

In the military they would be lieutenants, however, in hospitality they are assistant managers, front-of-house managers, supervisors and bar managers. The day-to-day operations will be led by this group and they will do a good job carrying out the manager’s vision.

A manager can trust they are capable of leading multiple people and will confirm their orders are carried out. As we all continue to focus on the evolution of our business and adjustments to a world where cleanliness and safety is more important than ever, these are the people who make sure your direction is properly carried out.

The third category is Naive/Hardworking, and this group is the most concerning. They appear to be getting a lot done at a fast pace at first glance. However, they are creating more work for others and potentially creating a dangerous environment.

As you read this you can probably think of someone specific who fits this description.

Earlier in my career, I hired a young man who came highly recommended with descriptions like “super-hard worker” and “tons of experience.” Sounds great right?

Within his first two weeks he drove a warehouse forklift up a grass hill as a shortcut to save moving product by hand by about 10 feet, cut his finger on a table saw, drove recklessly with an over capacity utility vehicle, and knocked over a table of drinks, ruining a co-worker's brand-new smartphone. Even after multiple discussions, verbal and written warnings, he still put other people in harm's way in the name of working hard and fast. He was ultimately terminated for these and other violations of policy.

Although this was many years ago it is at the front of my mind when hiring and observing my staff. When you recognize this type of worker you must avoid hiring if possible or remove them from your staff at the first opportunity. This is the last person you want responsible for adhering to COVID protocols. We always worry about the decision to terminate someone, but we never question if it was the wrong decision once we do.

Lastly, we come to the Clever/Lazy category. This group will make up the smallest percentage of your top 20% and when you recognize one, give them all the responsibility you can. These rarities will be best fit for upper management and are great at delegating duties efficiently.

Famous industrial engineer Frank Gilbreth once said, “I will always choose a lazy person to do a difficult job because a lazy person will find an easy way to do it.” It seems counterintuitive, especially when standing next to the hardworking folks, to understand how they can be a manager’s most valuable asset.

As General Kurt von Hammerstein-Equord put it: “The man who is clever and lazy qualifies for the highest leadership posts. He has the requisite nerves and the mental clarity for difficult decisions.”

These select few will be your general managers, regional general managers, senior vice presidents and CEOs. Recognize them and put them in charge of the most important parts of the business.

Applying the 80/20 principle using these worker traits can be incredibly beneficial. Not only must managers identify what quadrant someone falls into, they must also fully embrace the system.

The 80/20 principle is everywhere, managers can begin by first applying these traits to themselves, then their family and so on, but they will forever view individuals through this lens.

The economic truth that the overwhelming majority of production comes from a much smaller percentage of actual input is everywhere. 80% of your problems will come from 20% of your staff, 20% of your staff will account for 80% of the actual work getting done, and 20% of your SKUS will drive 80% of your revenue. Please, do the research yourself, look at the data and you will see how consistent and beneficial it is to be aware of it.

Travis Maynard is general manager at Volvo Car Stadium in Charleston, S.C., for Spectra Food Service & Hospitality. He previously served as general manager at Oak Mountain Amphitheater and Jiffy Lube Live Amphitheater for the Live Nation division of Legends Hospitality.

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