The 20% That Really Matters To Your Career

The new division president was peering out of the window as I entered the building. It was a daily routine, to ensure that his employees were putting in a full day’s work. His division was doing very well, but not because of the president’s timekeeping. Its success came from employees who believed in the purpose of the organization and were delivering results. Because he never figured out what drove his unit’s success, the president’s days of standing by the window were numbered. He was replaced by a leader who understood how to engage purpose-driven employees.

At another organization I visited, employees made sure they were sitting behind a cluttered desk when the president walked by. They had learnt that an empty and organized office set off alarm bells that they weren’t working.

The above practices are signs of immature leadership and limited organizational potential. But they are also fairly common. Most people have spent some time in a role where they had to deal with bosses who demanded attendance over outcomes and theatrical busywork. For some people, nothing is more attractive than a job that requires so little. Don’t be late, leave a little bit after quitting time, don’t take excessively long lunches, use sick days only when you are sick – and never put your feet up on the desk! Barring any major performance issues or downsizing, you are likely to have a job until retirement. As Woody Allen once said, “Eighty percent of success is showing up.” And he is right! As long as success simply means staying employed.

However, if you want more out of your career and aspire to deliver real value to your organization and those you serve, you will have to take things beyond the 80%.

The Other 20%

To truly add value to your organization and those around you, get noticed, receive promotions, make more money, and feel good about your contributions, you must be in a position where you can do what you do best most of the time and be able to quantify your results.

For commercial businesses, this means figuring out how your job and what you do connects to serving your organization’s customers, selling more products and doing business for less. For not-for-profit, you need to show how your job and what you do adds value to the mission of the organization and any fundraising efforts.

Doing What You Do Best

In 1993, you would have found me working as a bellhop in Tarrytown, New York. I was pretty good at my job and did fairly well on tips. However, about 50% of my job caused me a lot of pain – driving guests to destinations around town. On one such occasion I was called to the front desk to drive a group of Japanese businessmen who had just flown in from Tokyo to a meeting. The meeting was only five miles away. This should have been a short, easy trip. However, my poor sense of direction made it feel like the distance of the plane journey the businessmen had just been on. My three non-English speaking passengers were now running late for the meeting they had flown 6,700 miles for. I was seriously lost and had to stop for directions. All I could hear was what sounded like, “We are going to kill you!” being shouted from the backseat by the culturally punctual businessmen.

It’s funny now. At the time I wanted to run from the car and keep going.

My 20% told me that if I treated these businessmen extremely well and got them to their meeting on time, I would increase the chance that they and their company would return to the conference center adding to the sales, profits, growth, sustainability, good word of mouth and success of my employer, not to mention a possible tip for me. However, I did not have the natural talent (a sense of direction) to deliver on my 20% and failed miserably despite my best intentions.

To deliver optimum results for your organization, you must be in a role that plays to your strengths.

Determining Your ROI

To connect your job to the results your organization is looking for, you need to ask four questions.

1. What is my organization’s purpose (why it exists)?

2. How does my daily work connect to my organization’s purpose?

3. How do I make (or raise) money for my organization?

4. How do I help control costs for my organization?

The answers to these questions will highlight the reasons your organization invested in you and what they want in return for that investment.

However, the question that adds the maximum value for you and your organization is, “How does my purpose support the purpose of my organization?” The answer to this question creates the magic alignment where all great things happen – both employee and company knowing that they were put on this earth for the same reason. Combined with being in a role that plays to your strengths, nothing is more powerful to drive performance, results and success: the extra 20%.

Please check out my new book How to Find a Job, Career and Life You Love at


Published on Forbes, 19th May 2014

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