You’re not the expert until you master the middle 90%.
Do I live in a world of percentages? Sure; it tells me my return on investment, performance, completion, and sometimes even effort. It shows me where to focus improvement, where I’m making money or not, and where to find the hidden profits that others miss. What gets measured gets done, so if you want to master the middle 90% you might as well measure it.
In my last 2 posts, I wrote about the last 5% and the first 5%. That’s only 10%. Today we’re focusing on the remaining 90% because honestly without that portion the other two just don’t add up (hehe, accountant humor).
I’ve been in a couple of key conversations during the past 2 weeks where employees were concerned about being “measured” for their performance. They hide behind phrases like “I’m being micromanaged” or I find them asking questions such as “Don’t they trust me?” Now I’d be foolish to assume that measurement hadn’t been used for those negative things, and I’d be guilty of applying the same; but in a healthy business with a clear vision and traction to get to that vision, little happens without measurement. So, let’s measure the middle 90%.
What happens in there? If it’s a marathon, the middle 90% is a rhythm, a pace; some up and down (physically and mentally), a fierce battle with competition, with the elements, with the course…and most importantly with yourself. No-one finishes a marathon without the will and the training to do it. They start with the first 5%, slog it out for 90%, and then wrap it up in the end.
If it’s a basketball game, there are some similarities to a marathon. It has an ebb and flow. There are pauses for refreshment, for a new vision, for adapting. You might need to rejig the team on the fly, make adjustments to the strategy, and fall back to what you’ve practiced. But you don’t get to the last 5% with a chance to win unless you can execute for the middle 90 – never.
Let’s ask the question. Who do you remember the most?
Geoff is memorable for the event he was a part of, and in many cases needs to be a key part of the team just to get in that situation. Jill, however, may not get a bunch of hype and fanfare, yet when all the stats come together she is routinely a solid leader in performing and getting her team into close game situations. The numbers will show that even though she may not be cleaning up at the buzzer, Jill was a big part of the reason they got to the end of the game with a chance at all.
So what is it that makes Jill so valuable to her team during the middle 90?
Absolutely the most critical part of doing the 90% is just keeping on with it. Jill gets frustrated, someone gets under her skin, shots don’t go in when they normally do; she HAS TO just keep working. The alternative and I’ve seen it at leadership and team levels just as often is to start focusing on things that don’t matter and won’t help. That is when the plan breaks down and the game is lost.
Tenacity, or if you’d rather call it relentlessness, just keeps pounding away until the deal is done. I love watching people display tenacity. They’re the ones you want to follow, to run alongside, and give a big hug to when the game is over.
There is no way in a game or a race to just turn your mind off and plod along. There has to be desire there; something that is pushing for better, or a slight advantage, or an efficiency. Those who master that middle 90% find ways to look for impact, even the smallest push that will give them a better result. That extra few points, or that critical steal, or that brief bump in the pace, those are the bits that might not get a lot of glory but are what your team looks back on with a bucket of admiration.
There is a ton to be said about our ability to evolve and adapt as humans. We’re made pretty cool that way. I like to separate the ideas of adapting “because I have to” from adapting “to win.” Picture the old guys sitting around the table at the coffee shop, complaining about this politician, or that new thing that people are doing. Someone finally made them get an email account and gosh darn it, they just don’t like it. You might say they are adapting…but only because they have to, not to win.
Those who master the 90% find ways to adapt because they want to win at the end. They watch what’s happening around them, the look for the bright spots, the look to fix the things that are holding them back, and then they adapt to get what they want. If you want to master any project and do it well, without adapting to win in the middle 90% you may not get a chance to do that last 5%.
Jill succeeds at her projects, her goals, her mastery over any craft because she is tenacious, looks for impact, and adapts to win.
If you don’t do the middle 90% well you may not even get the chance to be in the last 5%, and you likely didn’t do the first 5%. Let’s summarize. Doing the last 5% well is ultra-critical because that is where the finish line is. Doing the first 5% well is a must if you want to play the right game. Focusing on getting the middle 90% done with tenacity will ensure you have a chance at winning, being successful in your projects, making people want to work with you, and helps you grow as a human.
Enjoy the 100%.