My father-in-law had a very basic observation: there are 10% of idiots on Earth. Back then, before he passed away, I was young and never really paid attention to it. But over the years, I came to the same conclusion as him with all sorts of observations. I’ve even come to refine the concept a bit.
Many studies have been done to determine the most optimal size of a team. You’ll get different answers depending on the study and the context it was done in, but in the end, an optimal team size is anywhere between 5 and 8. If you push it a bit, you could go to 9 people on a team. But when you get to 10, that team starts degrading. Why? It’s because you now have one idiot on that team. The idiot is not necessarily the same person all the time. You may have 9 people reporting to you and you need to hire a tenth one. You hire a great superstar. All of the sudden, that new person is very good relatively to the others you had on your team and therefore changes the delicate dynamic balance of that team. That change of balance will cause one member to become mediocre or to start saying and doing stupid stuff; it may even be the person that you considered the best before.
It actually happens to anyone temporarily. In a big meeting (with at least 10 people of course), you may raise your hand and say something stupid, act funny, or any other odd thing that people will notice and judge you on. You just caught the idiot virus for that meeting. Now you need to be careful and you need to get rid of it somehow by doing something brilliant so that someone else then gets the idiot tag.
Another way I see it is to never make teams bigger than 9. If your team needs to be bigger, start a second team. And if you get to 9 teams, don’t make a tenth team. Because then the rule applies, but to the team. You will have an idiot team. Ask any business, there is always a problem child that has low productivity, much lower than the others. It could be a person or a whole manufacturing plant, if you get to 10, one of them gets the idiot virus.
Now what does this have to do with retaining employees and schedules? You are scheduling PEOPLE; big teams of people. If you have 20 people to schedule, 2 of them will always be late with their requests, will never be happy with their schedule, will whine all the time about it, won’t want to work with such and such, etc.
If you expect that all your staff will be nice and on time, your scheduling process will be a nightmare. If you are prepared and accept the fact that a virus is running around and that every time you do a schedule, 10% of your staff will have that virus, your job will be much easier. Here are some steps you can take to prevent the idiots from ruining your existence:
- Set the rules clearly: if the world did not have idiots, there would not be any need for laws and regulations. Everyone would be good and would behave for their own good while respecting the good of others. Well since that’s not reality, rules need to be made clear and need to be applied. The application of the rule is what makes it valid; not only its communication. Before setting up a rule, try to test it out. Put yourself in the idiot’s shoes and see if there is any way you could go around the rule. Then put yourself in a good employee’s shoes and see if this rule would create frustration for that employee. It’s great to put rules together for the idiots, but they can’t run the shop. Employees will see injustice in new rules that are made just because an idiot did something stupid once. There is a fine line between setting up a rule and managing a bad employee. Be careful not to manage a bad employee through the rules. That will cause the perception of injustice across the other employees. None of the others are idiots and all will see directly through your game. That is bad for the management’s credibility.
- Apply your rules at all times: If your rules are fair, make sure you apply them all the time. It is important to remain impartial and not forgo a rule for a specific employee because that person is so good you would do anything for them. This creates the other end of the spectrum where some employees become prima donnas and yet again create a perception of injustice.
- Send personalized reminders: you know who your idiot staff is. Send them a personal email or note 3 or 4 days ahead of your deadline with a message just for them, not to all. When a message is personalized, folks are more likely to respond to it. If a message is not personalized, only the responsible people will respond to it (responsible is from response-able or able to respond; therefore the idiots won‘t respond)
- Write down the requests: when an employee comes up and asks for something, ask for the form before you answer: ‘sorry you’ve past the deadline’. Make sure you keep that form. Sometimes, people abuse and will call in sick for a day off that was refused or a shift they couldn’t swap with someone else. If you have everything written down, then you have information to manage (not punish) the employee.
 Of course, there may be only you and someone else and that person is already an idiot. If that happens to you, you are very unlucky and you can then hire a lot more people before you hit another idiot (unless you are just bad at hiring). Statistics do not protect you from hitting an idiot right away, but the laws of averaging will get you to 10%.