Stop, you may be on the verge of making a huge mistake. If you’re like most leaders and managers, you may be about to squander an unprecedent opportunity—the opportunity to rethink how you work.
In the past few weeks, I have had far too many discussions about getting back to work with people who are interested in a return to normal as quickly as possible. Yet, normal includes a lot of unproductive stuff and ways of doing things that we ought to leave in the past.
As you return to work, I want to invite you to wrestle with an important question. Where should I focus my energy and attention right now?
Better yet, there is a different form of this question that you should use as the starting point for rethinking how you work. On whom should I focus my energy and attention right now?
In this blog post, I want to introduce you to something called the “law of thirds.” It is a simple but powerful tool that you can use to focus your energy.
The “Law of Thirds”
Grab a piece of paper and draw two vertical lines on it about three or four inches apart to make three columns. Label the left column the “naysayers,” label the middle column the “undecideds,” and label the right column the “supporters.” Now, imagine that you are leading or managing an organization with any number of employees. Did you know that you can divide the employees and place them into one of these three categories?
The “naysayers” are the employees that are unreasonable, against everything, and are never happy. The “undecideds” are the employees that are in the middle who aren’t quite sure which side they are on. And, the “supporters” are the employees who are reasonable and generally want what is best for the organization.
Usually, about 5-10% of employees are “naysayers”, while the largest percentage of employees are “undecideds.” Yet, it is important to note that the “naysayers” are the loudest of the groups and continually demand more from leaders and managers. This group, as a result, often feels much larger than it is.
The real power of the law of thirds lies in the choice that it presents you as a leader and/or manager: On whom will you focus your energy and attention?
Choice #1: Focus your energy and attention on the “naysayers”
Everyone wants to win over the “naysayers.” If you focus your energy and attention on them, bad things will happen. Not only does it encourage them, many of the undecideds will join the “naysayers” because they will come to understand that this may be the best and only way to get your attention. Even worse, many of the “supporters” will get fed up and either join the “naysayers” or leave the organization altogether.
Choice # 2: Focus your energy and attention on the “supporters”
The better choice is to focus your energy and attention on the “supporters.” This means that you should communicate to every employee as if they were supporters (i.e. reasonable and generally interested in what is best for the organization). Sometimes, this requires thanking the “naysayers” for their input and explaining respectfully where the organization is going without hesitation or apology. When you focus your energy and attention on “supporters” most of the “undecideds” will become supporters because they realize that this is how they can get your attention. Sometimes, many of the “naysayers” will even become supporters, while most of the rest will eventually leave the organization. Leaving may not be a bad thing if these “naysayers” can find a place where they won’t be so unhappy. After all, zero turnover should never be your goal.
Put this Simple Tool to Use as You Return to Work
Isn’t it ironic that the best way to get the support of “naysayers” is to stop trying to win them over? Will you tap into the power of the “law of thirds” and focus your energy and attention on the “supporters” as you move into a new normal? If you do, it could unleash a period of productivity and job fulfillment unlike anything that you have experienced to date.
If you have questions, feel free to connect with us and request more information!
Travis Bland is the Associate Dean of the College of Public Affairs and Administration and an Associate Professor in the Department of Public Administration. He studies, consults, and offers trainings on organizational health, strategic planning and execution, and the management of people. To learn more, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
 See Patrick Lencioni, Author of The Advantage (visit www.tablegroup.com)