On Bloomberg Businessweek Harold L. Sirkin discusses a management dilemma that he calls the "Rule of 98/2".
He asks: "Should top executives focus workplace policies on identifying and weeding out the 2% of employees who are unreliable, can't be trusted, and take joy in spreading their poison among fellow workers? Or should policies focus on the 98% of employees who day after day show up on time, do their jobs, work hard, try to do the right thing, and often generate the breakthroughs that advance the company's interests?"
The author favours the latter approach, insisting that by treating the 98% with respect, listening to them and returning their loyalty, you create a happier and more productive workplace, and also stop them joining the other 2%.
Sirkin says it's unfortunate that many companies choose to focus almost entirely on the recalcitrant few, creating directives, rewards and punishments to limit problems – policies which he believes often fuel or create problems of their own by damaging the qualities of the workplace that help make good companies great.
"Executives need to understand that there are always unintended consequences when unnecessary rules and restrictions are imposed on the workplace," says Sirkin. "Such rules and restrictions—however well-intentioned and seemingly necessary at the time—can stifle initiative, discourage excellence, undermine morale, encourage the best and brightest to seek opportunity elsewhere, and, ultimately, eat into profits."
Sirkin quotes the late management guru Peter Drucker, who said: "So much of what we call management consists in making it difficult for people to work."
To shift the balance, first you must recognise that the majority of employees are honest, and grateful for their job.
"Rebalance your thinking; focus on this great asset you've been provided and do what you can to get the most out of them," says Sirkin. Second, recognise the stifling effect of over-regulation, and finally, act "swiftly and decisively" when you need to dispense with an unhelpful member of staff, because "making it easy for the majority to live up to their potential doesn't mean closing your eyes to the actions of the 2%".