Contribution: A Metric

For some time now I have been wondering how to transfer the ideas around talent, effort, and contribution, out of my head and into some sort of quantifiable metric. I asked myself “How do we measure the marks we leave on our organizations/communities?” Through my studies of the likes of Seth Godin, Simon Sinek, John Kotter, and others I seem to have found an idea that makes sense to me. How better to test the idea than to subject it to the scrutiny of others. If it makes sense to my colleagues and friends, I might be onto something.

With that being said, I have taken the knowledge passed down to me (i.e. that of the Golden Circle, Minimum Viable Audience, and more) to generate this metric. I hope that it makes sense and may be of use to you.

Avoiding the irony of generalizations (and for the sake of simplicity), I believe that we can group those within our organizations/society into four quadrants.

Below, in Figure #1 I have demonstrated what those quadrants are and how I have measured them. The Y-axis measures status which I am defining as “the measure of influence an individual has on those around them, or in decision making.” The X-axis measures contribution, or “the degree to which an individual adds value to something, based on emotional labor rather than monetary addition.” Starting in the lower left quadrant and working our way around in a clockwise fashion, I will explain how I have separated these individuals. 

Figure #1 – A metric for measuring talent and impact.

In the Low Status/Low Contribution quadrant, therein lies those in our companies who desire nothing more than their paycheck. Those who are comfortable are those who can more easily rationalize doing less, as it makes their lives a bit easier. We have probably run into someone like this who says, “that’s not my job.” The nonchalant attitude displayed in this quadrant is often a symptom of a weak culture or message, rather than a damning condemnation of those who desire simplicity and stability.

Located in the top left, you have the High Status/Low Contribution quadrant. Seth Godin has described the actions required to land yourself in this area as using a “Megaphone.” I call this quadrant the “Reality Star” zone. In our offices, political or otherwise, there exist those who have an indescribable way of attracting people to them, yet sadly, they often fail to deliver worthwhile solutions once they step up to the podium. Even worse, the loudest voice at the table may be the smartest (or most capable for the immediate task). These “Megaphone” users often loudly cry that “we have always done things this way” to use their rank to maintain the status quo. Organizations who build teams around such people fail to realize how complicit they are in creating a culture of hierarchy, complacency, and toxicity. 

Moving towards the right side of the chart, the High Status/High Contribution quadrant contains those who are easily recognized as leaders. Albert Einstein, Steve Jobs, and others like them are contained in this zone. Those who are willing to go the extra mile, who have built systems in their lives to sustain the prolonged effort, these are the men and women who make history. Developing the capacity to expend emotional labor, day in and day out is not easy. Earning your way into this quadrant requires more than charisma, it requires the ability to institutionalize change and shift cultures. 

Lastly, there is the Low Status/High Contribution quadrant. Any grand gesture or impactful movement requires countless hours of behind the scenes work. This zone focuses on those who know and do the things that matter, not just those who deliver the messages that matter. The “go-to” people in our offices/communities are contained in this niche square. By developing a reputation of being thoughtful, reliable, and intuitive these individuals contribute an immense amount to their fields. The kind of people not known to the common man, but respected and heralded as heroes in their industries, these are the kinds of people we find in this area. 

Of course, please keep in mind this is only a broad stroke in an attempt to paint the picture of an organization’s talent. There will always be outliers, and those within any of these quadrants are not destined to that location eternally. Through proper leadership and effective communication of vision, those on the left half of this chart can move towards a high contributing life. Delivering quality work, work that matters is not a skill any of us develop overnight. 

An organization/leader’s job then is to find the root causes of Low Contribution. Unstable leadership, weak communication, and overly hierarchical cultures all contribute to these “filler” quadrants. My goal in offering this metric is that we can analyze according to these definitions who in our communities/organizations are contributing. Turning down the volume on those loudest in the room, focusing on those who are saying and doing what matters is what determines our long-term success. We have to encourage risk-taking, creativity and develop the intrinsic motivators within our lives to inspire others. By leaning this chart towards the right side, towards High Contribution, we alter the system to produce the highest quality work. The work that forces others to take notice. 

As I continue to wrestle with this idea, I hope it offers a new perspective on the work we are doing.

Which quadrant are we in?

How do we move towards a life spent doing work that matters?

These are the questions worth asking, and the right leaders can help pave the way towards finding those answers.