Control Freak vs. The 80% Rule

I confess… I’m a self-proclaimed control freak. That’s probably one reason why I’ve found myself “unemployable” by traditional means. Today I was on a call and was asked, “Why do you consider yourself a control freak?” I actually had to stop and think about it. Typically the term “control freak” has a bad vibe. But to me it means to be in control of the quality and integrity of the products and services I create. Because at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter who creates what I sell. If I’m selling it, the buck still stops with me. I’M responsible for the end result.

And therein lies the rub… because most of us entrepreneurs that identify with being control freaks allow that identity to hold us back in business and success. We have to have our hands in every single step, every process, every project, every result, every… everything. And yet there are only so many hours in our day and only so much we can accomplish within those hours as one person without quickly burning out. The fact is in order to build and maintain a half-million-dollar business (and higher) we need other people. And yet those people may… no, will… eventually let us down. So what do we do? How do you handle the inevitable letdown?

The unfortunate truth is that you can’t expect anyone to create a project or complete a task as well as you can. Others don’t have your passion for what you do, your drive to showcase your best and your unique talents. However, you still need others to assist with parts of your product-producing and business-building process if you want to run a real business and exponentially increase your sales. We’re not meant to do this business thing alone.

You may have heard of The 80% Rule… the concept that if someone you hire can do their portion of your project at 80% of the quality and expectation you’d do yourself, it’s worth the time and financial investment. In some cases, such as book cover design if you’re not a designer or complex coding if you’re not a website developer, a professional may take that percentage up beyond 200%. But for most tasks you can do yourself that you want to tightly control, The 80% Rule is the standard.

My husband and I have over a dozen employees and independent contractors that work for our businesses. In many cases they can complete the tasks we give them (usually technical stuff) a lot better and faster than I can. When people discover everything we really do, they always ask us how we do it all and if we ever sleep. The truth is we couldn’t do everything by ourselves or we never would sleep! (And we find time to sleep, binge our favorite shows and even go to the movies.)

There’s no way we’d be able to keep up with online trainings, creating our own books, games and puzzles, consulting, volunteering on business committees in our town, running two retail stores and implementing a town-wide marketing plan if we didn’t have help to do it all. And through all the massive business growth we’ve experienced over the past three years, we’ve had to learn how to look at what our people contribute even if we don’t fully like it and ask ourselves, “Does this meet 80% of what I would have done?” I can say with certainty that 95% of the time our answer to that question is, “Yes.”

The other 5% of the time we either have to let it go or help our team members tweak the results to what we would like to see. That 5% is where training and clear communication come into play. If you’re unclear in your desires for what you want to see accomplished, you can’t blame them for not fully executing your ideas.

So how do you go from being a total control freak to The 80%? Here are three core steps to complete this process so your business can grow and thrive:

Hire the Right People

It starts with hiring the right people… for you. First, make a list of all the tasks you do within a week. Then look at that list and ask yourself what on the list makes you anxious, nervous, bored, feels mundane, what you keep putting off, etc. Now ask the most important question…

“Is this task something I absolutely must do myself?”

In a few cases it might be. For me, balancing the business budget fits a lot of the criteria I listed… but it’s a task that only I can do, at least for now. In those instances it’s an “eat the frog” sort of situation where you just have to buckle down and bribe yourself to do it. But I bet when you look at your list of tasks you’ll find at least a few things you don’t absolutely have to do yourself. A few things you could trust someone else to complete and learn how to be happy with their 80%.

Once you have your “outsource this” task list in-hand, make a list of qualities you’d like to see in the person that can complete those tasks for you. Stay open for the right person to come to you. You may go through a few people before you find that perfect fit, and that’s OK! What’s not OK is taking hold of those tasks again because the first person (or two or even three) you hired only did the task to 80% of the ability you would have done.

Make Your Expectations Clear

Once you’ve found someone to complete a task on your list, be very clear in your expectations. One of the expectations I had to learn after I discovered a pattern of this with several people is to make sure they understand that if I give them any task they’re not 100% comfortable doing (or learning), they can and should let me know. I’d rather find someone else to complete the tasks that aren’t in the person’s wheelhouse than have them force it just so they keep their job. Every time I’ve had a team member try to complete a job even though they knew they couldn’t, it’s blown up. In some cases it cost me thousands of dollars. So now I’ve learned to make the expectation clear that I don’t expect them to be the end-all-be-all to everything.

You also have to know exactly what you want. Do you want someone to update plugins on your website on a regular basis? Or handle complex coding for an app? You can’t expect a run-of-the-mill website maintenance worker to know complex code. Knowing what you want and what skillsets your task list requires is key to matching the right person to the task… and staying in the range of 80% and above.

Be OK With Letting Go

Last year we hired the model employee. He was everything we were looking for in a leader. Talented with great ideas, we felt lucky to have him. So much so that his integration and growth within our company led to us talking to him about training for an upper level position. The experience with him also led us to discover what our true purpose is—to make people’s dreams come true. Essentially we handed him his dream on a silver platter.

What we didn’t know was the depth of personal growth he had to go through in order to fully accept his own awesome and step into that role in our company. Through a series of sad events, he self-sabotaged his way right out of our company and lives. He went from a string of promotions to violating company policies and with our hands tied, we had to let him go.

This taught us that in order to build a solid foundation and make a difference in our community, we have to be willing to let anyone go for the greater good of the company. On one hand this means everyone is expendable and can be replaced. On the other hand we have the responsibility to train every member of our team in a way that makes them extremely hard to replace… both on a personal growth level and professional level.

Because even someone that seems like they’re the perfect fit to help your company grow might not be able to handle it and can self-sabotage their way right out of the dream you’re handing them. It’s heartbreaking… and yet you as the company owner must hold the position of both wanting what’s best for them and keeping your company safe.


Being a control freak is fine when you’re quality-controlling the work of your team, helping them make better decisions and enabling them to learn, grow and strive to always do the best they can. It’s not OK when it stunts the growth of your company and keeps you from learning, growing and striving to do the best you can be because you won’t let go of those tasks that are keeping you from implementing your own greatness.

So by all means, be a control freak. Be thorough in your interview processes. Find those tasks that are easy to outsource first before diving into outsourcing something essential to your bottom line. And remember The 80% Rule as you start working with team members. Are they doing the tasks you give them to 80% of what you would do? Then keep them. Are they below that? Then train them. Are they more like 5-10%? Then let them go.

And let me know your thoughts and experiences in the comments below. 🙂

Leave a Comment

  • William Miller
    February 5, 2019

    Being a control freak isn’t always bad. Just like any other personalities, it has good sides too. It may undesirable in some situations, but there are situations that it is needed. I agree that being a control freak is fine when you’re quality-controlling the work of your team, helping them make better decisions and enabling them to learn, grow and strive to always do the best they can. Do it at the right time and place, be very careful and learn how to use this trait positively.