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The Top 10% – Insights from Tom Simmons

August 31st, 2007 · 2 Comments

Dave Christiansen, Managing Editor

Many organizations have compensation structures & processes that reward “high performance” employees more than regular joes. Usually, these high performers are a group of people with the performance ratings in the 90th percentile, or the top 10%. Conversely, some organizations automatically fire the bottom 10%.

A few months ago, I was lucky enough to find myself on a plane to Philadelphia, sitting next to Tom Simmons, a professional comedian. We had a very interesting conversation, and Tom was kind enough to tolerate my questions about his business. At one point, he offered some valuable insight about employee performance in general – if all you do is care, you are automatically in the top 10%.

I’ve been thinking about this ever since. I remember my reaction when he said that. Sweet, I thought. I care. I’m in the top ten! Gimme that bonus, baby.

But… am I? Do I really care? Tom also pointed out that 90% of the workforce think they are in the top 10%. Apparently, most of us think we care, but… how do we know? I’ve been thinking of this for a while, and I thought I’d come up with a few questions that could be used to determine whether or not you REALLY care. Almost all of us think we do, so let’s think about how to figure out if that’s really true.

Here are the questions.

  • Name the last four books you read on your own time, within the last year. How many of them were related to your job?
  • Describe two new ideas you have experimented with in your job in the last year, gleaned from your readings.
  • Describe a time in the last two months when you have helped someone at work simply because it made the company more likely to be successful, with no upside for you.
  • In the last six months, have you given feedback to a person in power that 1) was important to the organization and 2) put you at risk of being yelled at, demoted, or fired?
  • Can you name three behaviors/weaknesses you have that hurt the company as well as techniques you use to prevent them from occurring?
  • In the last three months, have you argued publicly with a person in power?
  • Describe a time in the last three months when you made a mistake that hurt the organization.
  • Describe an original contribution you have made in the last year to the overall industry or profession in which you work.
  • You don’t have to be able to answer all of these questions to prove you care, but I think if you can’t answer ANY of them well, whether you want to believe it or not, you probably don’t care.

    I think it’s hard to teach people to care, because most people already believe they do. Do you?

    Dave Christiansen is the founder and managing editor of He manages projects for a Fortune 100 financial services company and writes and talks about project management. He can be reached at

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    Tags: Job Advice · Uncategorized

    2 responses so far ↓

    • 1 Justice~! // Aug 31, 2007 at 12:11 pm

      I love this post, and not just because answering these questions feeds my ego!! 😉 Okay, it *was* all because of that, but other than that I think it’s a great reminder to all of us in jobs about how *we* can make an impact.

    • 2 Adi // Aug 31, 2007 at 6:19 pm

      Just wanted to inform you I recommended your blog for my BlogDay post:

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