80/20 Hiring: How to Thrive In Both Good Times And Bad

You’re no doubt familiar with the 80/20 Principle. In case you aren’t, this is the principle by which 80% of results derive from just 20% of all inputs.

20% of all organizations produce 80% of all value in the market.

20% of the population generate 80% of the wealth.

…and so on.

Today’s world is sharply, viciously 80/20. More so than any other time in living memory. The dividing line between abject failure and runaway success is abrupt, ruthless, and often difficult to see. 

Here are just a couple of the pitfalls that await you on the path of the 80%:

  • Working like a dog, relentlessly, day in and day out, for years – just to scrape by and hang on to your career by a thread
  • Being blindsided and left vulnerable to total ruin by a black swan event (such as a pandemic-induced recession…)

Awareness is half the battle. Much of the time, being on the right side of 80/20 is simply being intentional about the choices you make. For example, on your to-do list of ten items, which two will produce 80% of the impact? Attack those two items rather than scattering your focus equally across all ten.

As a leader, you’ve probably acted in accordance with 80/20 at least some of the time. That’s how you got to where you are today.

Yet an often under appreciated aspect of leadership is that, once you become a leader, it’s not about you anymore. Your success is no longer really about your own talents, your intellect, your hard work or even your decisions. Your success is primarily determined by the quality of your team.

Your job is to harness the power of your team to create 80/20 results. And that task is far easier when you have an 80/20 team to work with.

Complacency Kills Careers

Even fools can make fortunes in bull markets. Back in 2017, everyone in crypto was a hero.

And building a winning bench is certainly important in good times, at least if you want to achieve lasting success. But when prosperity reigns, even mediocre companies survive – and sometimes even thrive, if only for a short time.

But when the flames of recession are encroaching, 80/20 Hiring isn’t just about winning anymore. It’s about pure survival.

In a crisis, will your team pull out all their reserves of grit and work ethic, and double down on producing results? Or will they become demoralized, demotivated, and beaten?

Do you have creative geniuses and left-field thinkers on the bench – people who can rapidly generate ideas and action plans for getting ahead of changing conditions? Or do you have inflexible people who just can’t adapt?

And it goes without saying that you can least afford the burden of having to micromanage a poor employee when you need to steer your team through a crisis. You need all hands on deck.

It’s also about the survival of your very career.

Your team has the power to propel you to new heights of greatness…or to leave you out in the cold, forgotten and ignored.

Your team not achieving means you’re not achieving. And in a time of tightened belts and cutbacks, that makes you vulnerable. No one wants to be the VP or middle manager that gets laid off at the start of a recession – just as the pool of such openings is drastically shrinking.

We don’t yet know to what extent coronavirus will impact the Blockchain industry. It’s looking resilient so far, and being accustomed to distributed work already, we are certainly in a better position than most. But who can say what level of damage the broader economy can sustain before we start feeling the pain too?

If nothing else, let this be the motivation you need to get your hiring house in order. Do so and you will reap rewards for many years to come, regardless of which way the winds blow in 2020.


Getting Started With 80/20 Hiring

There are multiple components to 80/20 Hiring – to reliably succeed at the practice, you must have a good grasp of all of them. Hey, Rome wasn’t built in a day – but we can make a good start.

Briefly, let’s define an 80/20 Hire. An 80/20 Hire is a person who produces top 20% results on-the-job (as compared to all potential candidates), at the salary level you can afford.

When looking to hire, most people begin by creating a list of required skills and experience that the person must have. Sometimes this is based off the skills and experience the last person in the job had (even if they gained those skills and experiences by doing the job in the first place). More often than not, it’s just plucked out of thin air. “Sure, we need 5-7 years’ experience in <insert programming language here>. That sounds about right.”

They might write a job description detailing this bullet point list in exacting detail (yawn), while making at best a cursory effort to convey the selling points of the job.

If your goal is to hire the top 20%, this approach is tying one hand behind your back before you even step into the arena. Why?

Think about it for a moment. What differentiates the All-Star talent from the merely competent?

For one, they are typically able to learn faster and accomplish more than other people – with less experience.

It doesn’t make any sense. There’s hardly a job ad in the world that doesn’t mention a required number of “years of experience”, and yet, this actually filters out the most promising talent!

Moral of the story: just because a practice is ubiquitous doesn’t make it smart.

While this is perhaps the most dramatic example of why conventional job descriptions suck, the ultimate flaw is in picking irrelevant selection criteria. You can avoid that by starting with first principles. As with so many things in life, the real power is not in having all the answers, but in asking better questions.

For example, instead of asking “what skills and experience does this person need to have?”

Ask “what results do we need this person to accomplish?”

Once you are crystal clear on what outcomes are required (and in which time frame), you can reverse-engineer those outcomes to identify the ideal candidate. Get a bit of practice with this and you’ll soon realize that although factors like “years of experience” may be correlated with success, they do not determine it.

Instead, you’ll find that the most accurate predictors of success derive from doing, not having.

It’s not about having “Solidity experience” or “3 years in back-end development”. At the senior level, it’s not even about having “management experience”.

It’s about the projects they’ve delivered. The code they’ve produced. The teams they’ve built and led to victory.

And what they’ve learned from the challenges they’ve overcome.

It’s also important to note that just because someone is an 80/20 Hire for your rival down the road, doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll succeed at your company.

Some success factors are intrinsic to the person, and (for the most part) unchanging. You might think of them as DNA. Factors like values and ethics, temperament, intra/extraversion, the baseline level of talent for a certain discipline.

Others are learned. Competence in programming languages, project management, sales techniques.

And still others have a substantial environmental component. Motivation is a prime example. All the talents and skills in the world are worthless without application. And long-term, consistent application requires motivation. The same person may find one work environment highly motivating, while the next one saps their will to live.

So when you’re getting ready to scope out your next 80/20 developer, bear in mind that doesn’t necessarily mean you need to find the most talented one possible. You need to find the one who will deliver the best results for you, in your unique environment. Your best hire might just be the upstart who has 70% of the skills, but loves everything about your company and his work, and stands ready and willing to put forth twice the effort that anyone else would.


About the Author:

Harrison Wright, The Blockchain Recruiter.

I help Blockchain Executives, Leaders and Talent Acquisition Professionals take their own careers to the moon by giving them the keys to attract, engage and retain the best blockchain talent in the world.

I strongly believe that, as a leader, the level of success and fulfilment you enjoy has little to do with your individual performance but is determined almost entirely by the quality of your team.

Your number one responsibility is to attract, engage and retain top performers. And your ability to do so is the foremost driver of your upward mobility, your reputation, and perhaps even your happiness.

Get it right and you’re walking on water. Get it wrong and, well, it’s like trying to survive a recession by holding stocks and fiat currency. You’re in for one hell of a ride!

That’s where I come in. 

Learn more at  https://theblockchainrecruiter.com


Paul Lennie

Paul is a Scottish finance expert who moved to New York in 2002 to trade on Wall Street, and has been a blockchain and cryptocurrency advocate since 2013. He is a well-respected member of the global blockchain community, and has worked with banks and other large corporations on integrating blockchain technology into their businesses.