The 5 to 1 Ratio For Management

The 5 to 1 Ratio For Management

Think about your romantic relationship. Studies show that unless your positive interactions with your partner outnumber the negative interactions by a ratio of 5 to 1, the relationship is likely to fail. Yes, it takes 5 good interactions to make up for every 1 bad interaction.

The 5 to 1 Ratio has another application. Studies show that negative information, negative experiences, and negative interactions have a far deeper impact on employees in the workplace than positive interactions. It could be an upsetting interaction with a manager, a coworker, or a grumpy customer, but the impact on an employee’s feelings of 1 negative interaction in the workplace has a 5 times stronger impact on their motivation than that of a positive interaction.

Eliminate the negative.

I have written previously that it is vital that we praise our people frequently in order to motivate our team and increase employee engagement.

Obviously, we want to maximize the number of good interactions we have in the workplace, but studies suggest that managers will get far more “bang for their buck” if they focus on eliminating the negative interactions in the workplace.

The effect of “toxic” people in workgroups is contagious. People who are grumpy, disrespectful, selfish, or lazy will drag the morale and performance of your other team members down. These rotten apples infect everyone else. A team with just one person who exhibits any of these negative behaviors can suffer a performance disadvantage of 30% to 40% compared to teams that have no bad apples.

Warning! I see many team cultures try to eject people who are naturally cautious, analytical, and pessimistic. You know, the person who plays the “devil’s advocate”. The people who tend to point out the downside of any decision, and worry about the worst things that could happen. These people are often labeled as being “negative” and shunned by the team. This can be a mistake.

Look closely. Are they “rotten” or are they just passionately arguing for what they believe is in the best interests of the organization, pointing out the downside risks, regardless of what others in the team may think?

Disagreements are good.

Disagreements and debates about what course of action to take should not be seen as negative interactions. If you only surround yourself with optimistic “yes men” and “yes women” because you like having a harmonious and positive work environment, you risk being blindsided. You need to be secure enough to surround yourself with thoughtful people who are less likely to be swayed by the opinions of the group, and who will argue for what they passionately believe to be true vs. what is popular, or what appeases the leader.

As painful as it may be to listen to someone who disagrees with you, you need at least one person on your team who will argue for the pessimistic worst-case scenario and challenge you to a good debate by pointing out all the flaws in your ideas and proposals.

“If everyone is thinking alike, then someone isn’t thinking” (General George Patton)

Having someone play devil’s advocate is an asset to strategic decision making, so if you don’t have such a person on your team, you need to appoint someone to play that role. e.g. “I want you to point out the flaws and downsides to my suggestion please, so I can consider this from all the angles”.

Practice “tough love”.

High performing teams have a clear set of Core Values that they all subscribe to, and use these as the basis for hiring, performance management, and decision making. The managers of high performing teams confront behavioral problems directly and quickly.

High performing teams have a clear set of Metrics (Key Performance Indicators) that provide clarity about the performance standards for people in every role. The managers of high performing teams use dashboards to make performance visible and are good at holding people accountable for performance.

Interestingly, managers of high performing teams tend to be a little bit tougher. These hard-driving managers inspire higher performance because they make it crystal clear they will not tolerate poor results, and they will not tolerate any behaviors not aligned to the Core Values. 

Think about the best teacher or coach you have ever had in your life. Chances are they were a little bit tough on you, weren’t they? High performing managers are fair and consistent, however, and balance this no-nonsense approach with ample recognition and praise for good performance and good behaviors.

5 Parts Praise, 1 Part Discipline.

But remember. The key lesson for managers is if you want to be more effective at business execution and create a winning team, make sure you cultivate the 5 to 1 Ratio. Your interactions with employees need to be:

5 Parts Praise: Lavish your people with praise and gratitude for the good work they are doing.

1 Part Discipline: Follow up every week to hold people accountable for performance. Don’t procrastinate when it comes to doing the unpleasant work. Confronting below standard results and negative behaviors is not fun, but it’s an essential part of being an effective manager.

How can you apply the 5 to 1 Ratio in your organization this week?


Until next time…