Our Culture: The 5% Rule

By: Colin Martin

Our Culture: The 5% Rule

Our Culture Series explores the guiding principles reflected in our company.


Please allow me a small preamble. I used to blog when blogging was new and all the rage. It started as an attempt to share and catalog my life and business experiences with the hope others may learn from both my opportunities and my mistakes.

But somewhere along the way, it started to feel too egotistical; it felt like I was writing for the sake of writing. So about ten years ago I stopped.

However, as I consider (and write about) the values driving the daily success of our team, my hope is not write just to write or talk just to talk, but rather to act with a willful desire for mutual success. This is a big part of our core values: Lead, Impact, Respect, and Simplify — they apply to ourselves and those outside our company.

The 5% Rule

Over the past 25 years of business, I have distilled certain lessons and experiences down to digestible maxims (or rules) and some of them have stood the test of time. For example, there is the Rule of 32, which I may write about in the future. But today’s focus is on the 5% Rule.

The rule is not complicated. Although uncommon in the world, it’s very common among highly successful companies. I believe it to be a lynchpin to true success and something I look for in everyone I meet.

Simply stated: 

90% of success comes from 5% of the work.

Let’s unpack what success means in this context: Success is hitting your stretch goals. Success is growing at a thirty percent rate instead of a historical five percent. Success is going into an almost impossible business situation and turning a pile of crap into a bed of roses.

Success is your customers noticing that you are profoundly different and even though they may not be able to fully articulate why or how you are different, they know they must work with you.

This last measure of success comes from near-flawless execution. Flawless execution, in the end, comes from one thing: the last five percent.

  • The last 5% is proofing for errors and testing; it’s the detailed customer follow-up; it’s paying attention in a meeting when you’re bored or distracted by the fight you had with your spouse last night. 
  • The last 5% is spending extra time to figure something out now instead of putting it off till tomorrow. 
  • The last 5% is getting home, having diner, and then opening your laptop for a few minutes because something is eating at you. 
  • The last 5% is never being satisfied with the status quo; it’s always thirsting to grow; it’s being part of the excitement. 
  • The last 5% is realizing it can be painful when you’re part of a high-growth environment; it’s going the extra mile and working extra hours to be a part of greatness.
  • The last 5% is always looking to increase your knowledge base and intently stretching to become a better person.
  • The last 5% is details, details, details. Great execution lies in the details. What is the difference between a decent building contractor and a great contractor? It’s the contractor that completes all the finishing touches — every detail — that will leave a smile on your face. Every corner perfectly painted, every cabinet door perfectly fitted, every countertop perfectly level. 
  • The last 5% is being so in-tune with your coworkers and customers that they feel loved, appreciated, and respected … at all moments. The converse is also true. When you see your coworkers not pushing through the last five-percent, you respectfully confront them with courage and conviction. If a customer is not committed to the last five-percent, then maybe we walk away from a deal. Eventually, you must cut ties with mediocrity. Good enough is the enemy, just like a 20 lb. weight dragging down a world-class swimmer.
  • The last 5% is where leadership and quality resides. It’s where the wheat separates from the chaff; it’s self-awareness. It’s (sincerely) relating to someone very different from you. 
  • The last 5% is not defensive. It’s thinking proactively; it’s asking yourself “what am I missing?”; it’s accepting critique with grace when you screw up; it’s an undying desire to correct and do better than expected the next time.
  • The last 5% is loving people (coworkers, customers, family, etc.) even though you may not like them or want to be around them. 
  • The last 5% is usually not where black/white resides. It’s the fluid part of our work and existence; it’s the gray area of the path where two parties can find success together.

I could go on with examples all day, but you get the point.

It’s the last 5% wherein lies 90% of success — that’s impact. Average people can do the first ninety-five percent. It’s the uncommon person that pushes through the last five percent to greatness.

This is a huge part of what attracted me to dedicating my working life to this company. There is greatness here. The last five percent is here.

Closing Thoughts

Here’s something to think about: What is the last five percent for you? Can you identify the last five percent in yourself, in your work, in your coworkers, or in your customers?

When you are in a meeting over the next week, will you have an ah-ha moment and say, “THAT’S the last five percent … Right there!” Call it out, write it down, and talk about it. It’s good to publicly recognize excellence. 

Always hope, never give up, encourage others, rise above, and achieve more than you thought was possible. 

Colin Martin

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