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Using the 85/15 Rule to Identify Root Causes of Problems in the Workplace

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

This lesson discusses the 85/15 Rule within the workplace. You'll learn about this theory and how it helps you get to the bottom of many problems in the workplace.

Identifying the Problem

Presume you are a manager at Acme Co. You are presented with some sort of unexpected problem. Not knowing the context of the problem, should you suspect that an individual at Acme Co is at fault for the issue or that something else is causing the problem?

Well, you're about to find out as we define the 85/15 rule and explore how to use it in the workplace.

What is the 85/15 Rule?

The 85/15 Rule states that 85% of the problems in the workplace are caused by problems in the system. Only 15% of the problems in the workplace are actually caused by issues pertaining to an individual (issues such as laziness, carelessness, etc.) In other words, 85% of the time things like a company's rules, culture, expectations, processes/practices, structures, and other parts of its system are actually to blame for either causing or promoting a problem (perhaps chronically so). The management must solve these issues.

Using the 85/15 Rule in the Workplace

Let's discuss an example to see how the 85/15 Rule can be applied. Let's say that one of the chief problems you have discovered is a litany of customer complaints about the poor nature of Acme's customer service. Should the blame should be placed squarely at the feet of Acme's three customer service reps? Sure, about 15% of the time. Maybe you'll discover they, or one of them, are careless or simply rude to your customers. This can easily be the individual's fault.

However, 85% of the time you need to dig into Acme's system. What is precipitating poor customer service that, no matter whom you hire for the position, causes Acme's customers to rate it poorly?

Determining a Cause

This is where you need to take a serious look to find the actual cause of the supposed rudeness or carelessness. Things to consider may be:

1. A lack of training: If the customer service team isn't properly trained in etiquette/manners, they may not even realize that what they're doing is wrong.

2. A lack of education: This could be about the company's products, services, or customer values. If a customer service rep is always made to look like a fool because they've never been educated about the product/service they represent, then it's hard to blame them for getting frustrated that they appear less than stellar, so to speak, to the customers. Similarly, if the customer service rep isn't taught what customers value the most, then how can they address these issues properly?

3. A massive workload: If the customer service team is understaffed and overwhelmed, it's easier to understand why they may get frustrated. This may be something the customers will sense as well.

4. An inappropriate work environment: Think: micromanagers, poor feedback, unrecognized efforts or worse, harassment, bullying, or other serious concerns.

5. A poor workplace culture: Maybe the company values a cutthroat and mean-spirited approach in other segments of the workplace, and that rubs off on the customer service team.

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