Initiative equals success; Diplomas might open doors, but being in the ...

Initiative equals success; Diplomas might open doors, but being in the 20 percent means job staying power



Penny Scott

We see and hear a lot about student success at Lane. However, of the many ways student success can be viewed and measured, one is overlooked. It’s not taught specifically at Lane, or at other colleges for that matter.

Business owners and managers know that the efforts of 20 percent of their employees account for 80 percent of the company’s results. Therefore, when employing people, they are on the lookout for candidates who fit the 20 percent profile.

Widely known as the Pareto Principle, the 80/20 rule appears to be a natural phenomenon occurring wherever there are people and perhaps even in nature. Named after Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, the principle divides a multitude of things into 20 and 80 percent ratios.

In the early 1900s Pareto observed that roughly 20 percent of the population owned 80 percent of the land in Italy. In his own garden, he observed that 20 percent of his pea pods contained 80 percent of the peas.

The 80/20 rule states that roughly 80 percent of effects come from 20 percent of causes. However, the principle seems to hold true in all areas of life. Think of your own life and ponder whether these statements are true: We wear 20 percent of our clothes 80 percent of the time. We eat the same foods, go to the same places and congregate with the same people 80 percent of the time.

In businesses it is commonly known that 80 percent of sales, and therefore profits, come from 20 percent of clients. The same is true of complaints and problems; 80 percent of a company’s complaints come from 20 percent of its customers.

People who authentically fit the 20 percent profile, will always be in demand. They are people who:

• Deliver quality products or services

• Deliver on time and as agreed

• Are easy to get along with and not a problem

• Work efficiently and effectively with others

• Are trustworthy

All employers want this kind of person working for them. All teachers want this kind of student in the classroom. Even the mafia wants people like this on their payroll! The top 20 percent are in demand everywhere in any economy. Becoming one of them is about becoming exceptional, but not in the sense of having exceptional talent; it’s about deciding to be an exception to the norm. Simply put, it’s about not being one of the 80 percent.

Teachers are well-acquainted with the frustration that comes from having students who just cruise by, turn in work below their abilities and turn it in late; some of these students even complain about the resulting poor grades and ask for higher ones. There are degrees of unreliability for sure, but one way or another, these students make life more difficult for teachers.

This is mirrored in the workplace. Employers tire of employees with half-hearted attitudes who just go through the motions doing only enough to get by. What’s more, they think they should be paid more. These are the people who make up 80 percent of the workforce. Members of the 20 percent group are what every employer is looking for.

After observing this phenomenon for years, it appears to me that neither students nor employees in the 80 percent group are inherently defective, lazy or deliberately difficult. In fact, they are usually really nice people.

I firmly believe that they just lack awareness of how crucially important it is for them to develop these five skills and attributes. Furthermore, it is my contention that their future success depends on it. In addition, the opportunity simply doesn’t exist for students to be trained in them.

Teachers don’t fire unreliable students; they just put up with them, give them low grades and sometimes complain about them. Employers, on the other hand, will readily fire such employees when they find a 20 percent person to replace them. We are in an economy right now where employers have the luxury of picking and choosing. This means they’ll get rid of dead wood at the first available opportunity.

What’s more, the economy, regardless of indications signaling a recovery, is fragile. We are one stock market crash, terrorist attack or other calamity away from another downward spiral. Therefore, one of the smartest things colleges can do towards student success is foster these essential and highly transferable skills and attributes in students.

Success is determined more by attitudes and habits than anything else. The good news is that it’s not hard to develop the attitudes and habits of the 20 percent. It doesn’t take talent or special skills. It just takes students’ commitment to their own success, along with some focused training.

College can, and should, be a turnaround place.

Students can be trained to be in the 20 percent, which would increase their chances of success exponentially. Think of it – all that competition out there, and 80 percent of it can be eliminated. Teachers don’t have the time to teach students how to join the ranks of the 20 percent, but they sure love having them in their classes.

I believe that a core transferable skills program should be offered in the first year of college. That way, students’ chances of succeeding in other classes would increase as well. This represents well-rounded schooling. It also represents a great opportunity for Lane. Who better to lead the way, to innovate and to propel student success to new heights?

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