Back in 2002, I worked with a client who was a division administrator with the State of Wisconsin. He introduced me to the concept of “working in your Upper 50%” and it stuck with me. In fact, it is a method I have used with clients ever since. When people really get this, it can be very empowering and gets adopted as discussion norm.
What is working in your Upper 50%?
Working in your Upper 50% means working on those things that benefit most from your unique expertise, skills and abilities. It means working on those things where you can add the most value to the organization. The Lower 50% includes activities that you can probably knock out of the park, but they do not make the best use of your skills and capabilities. The activities in your Lower 50% are things that you should look to automate, delegate or delete. (Note: People gravitate to Pareto’s 80/20 rule, but I find that 50/50 is easier to contemplate demands on one's time.)
How working in the Upper 50% helped this ELS exec
As a consultant, one of my functions is to counsel clients on finding and working in their Upper 50%. This requires having a deliberate conversation about what that means. For example, we were helping an emerging life science company build out a new functional area. The VP quickly understood the 50/50 concept and it became a weekly discussion item. The goal was to optimize the VP’s time so, as the leader of Medical Affairs, he could focus on the data and the scientific narrative, creating a medical deployment plan, establishing performance metrics and collaborating with his peers on the go-to-market strategy. The team worked together to find solutions for his Lower 50%.
- We put a functional implementation plan together that delegated roles and responsibilities for completing prioritized activities.
- We established content guidance and review processes to delegate development of high-quality, consistent medical materials to the MSL team.
- We put a “send and move-on” system in place that he and his managers used to submit ideas, questions and decisions with confidence that a process and team would triage and act on them.
This allowed the VP and managers to focus on making decisions and developing cross-functional relationships with other departments and other activities where their time and attention was most needed.
Some people are reluctant about delegating Lower 50% activities. It’s important to understand that it’s not about relinquishing control; one person’s Lower 50% is another person’s Upper 50%. It’s all about getting everyone to play to their strengths. Make the Upper/Lower part of your regular conversations.