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The Golden 5%

The Golden 5% is that last bit of maximum contribution that is inside all of us. It’s the full expression of our ability, multiplied by our maximum possible effort, multiplied by our full contribution of heart. In many ways it is the most personal and intimate thing we can offer in a professional setting. It is the performance equivalent of what we offer in a deeply loving relationship – the best of ourselves.

In this last 5% is the full measure of potential greatness inside each of us. And yet, we rarely give it or reliably inspire the giving of it by others in organizations. Why?

Here’s the catch. As a leader you cannot access the golden 5% in your team members with money or benefits. It will not be unlocked because you gave a great speech or because people like you.

This last measure of possibility is only given when others freely choose to unite some deeply held personal purpose of their own, with the collective purpose of an organization. In other words, it happens when the individual reason “why” a key contributor does what they do is harmonized with and augments “why” the organization does what it does.

“Why” is very different than “what” and “how”. A staff member might be intellectually excited about an organization’s cutting-edge technological processes (What). Or, they might appreciate that the workday is flexible, projects are team-based, and there is a generous PTO policy (How). All of these things would be positives in and of themselves and likely make that a great place to work. But alone, they’d be unlikely to unlock the golden 5% in a significant number of people.

What would? Here’s a good place to start.

When is the last time that a wide selection people in your organization took significant time to discuss questions such as:

  • What’s the main reason I choose to do this work?

  • What’s the greatest thing I value about the people here?

  • What aspects of my work would I continue to do in some way, even if had to do it for free? Why?

If you’re a senior leader, when is the last time you led a conversation with staff, your board, and others about:

  • Why is the world better because this organization exists?

  • How could we make that contribution more deliberately and communicate it more passionately to the world?

  • To what extent is that aspiration reflected in our strategy, systems, leadership, and culture?

A clear, compelling, and transcendent purpose, individual and collective, is what unlocks the golden 5% - the full potential that normally lies dormant in most people and organizations.

Look beyond the mission statement for a moment. Set aside the last strategic plan language for an afternoon. Sit down with those with whom you are spending a significant amount of the most valuable years of your life and discuss, “Why are we doing this and why is it important to me?”

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