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Focus your employee retention effectiveness by invoking Price’s Law

Derek Price was a British physicist who is credited with identifying the mathematical relationship between (1) literature on a specific subject, and (2) the number of authors in the subject area.  Price’s square root law (or simply Price’s Law) states that half of the publications in a subject area come from the square root of all contributors. So, if 100 papers are written by 25 authors, five of those 25 will have contributed 50 of those 100 papers.  Price’s Law is obviously related to academic research and reporting, but I have observed an interesting parallel in the world of work.

Repeatedly, in organizations, I have noticed that there seems to be a small number of people who seem to get the most work done.  If I may go as far as invoking Price’s Law – half the work is done by the square root of the total number of employees in that department or division.  So if the sales team has 10 people, half the revenue seems to come from three people in the group.  If the first-line tech support team has 15 people, four people seem to respond to and close about half the support tickets.  What if you have an organization of 100 people – do 10% of them get half the work done, and the other 90% the remaining half?  That’s a scary thought!  Now I know that Price’s Law doesn’t exactly compute in every situation, but my point is that this ratio generally applies – which is, a handful of people get the most work done. 

If we can agree on this, then it leads to a very significant issue – do you, as a leader, know who you top performers are?  Do you know who makes up your square root?  And perhaps more importantly, are you recognizing and appreciating what these people bring to your success?  My unfortunate experience has been that far too often, leaders take this hard work and productivity for granted.  Not intentionally, but usually because they are too busy to stop and recognize great results.  Yet, sadly, if you don’t focus on recognition, your retention will suffer.  These top performers, the very ones you need and want to keep, are the same ones that will find it the easiest to walk out the door and find work elsewhere … often with your competitor.

So think about how Price’s Law may apply in your department, division or organization, and deliberately and thoughtfully identify your top performers.  Then make it point to let these people know that they are appreciated.  Recognition is an important factor in employee retention, so make it work for you.

If you’d like specific tips and ideas on how to show your appreciation to your people, then be sure to access our 33 video tips on exactly this subject.  Go to the Motivating Employees Video Series.  But please also share your thoughts here.  Is Price’s Law true in your organization?  Are you showing your appreciation to your top performers?  If not, what’s stopping you?  Please share your perspectives directly on the blog at

Since the last issue of the Mega Minute, Merge has had two columns published in The Globe and Mail.

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