Creating Buy-In: The 10/80/10 Model

The 10/80/10 model (or rule) is a theory of leadership that addresses group dynamics, and, though the theory originated in the corporate world, it is highly relevant in education as well. In the model, all the people in an institution fall into three distinct areas, with the vast majority (80%) falling into a central neutral zone, with the remaining 20% splitting equally between those that will readily embrace a change and those that protest any deviation from the norm.

Anytime that leadership must guide and transition individuals through change, such as adoption of a new technology or a shift toward learner-centered environments, these groups quickly come to focus. To better explain this, let’s look at each segment individually.

Positive 10%
These are the people that go above and beyond. If they weren’t the ones to push for change in the first place, they are the early adopters who, once you give them the tools (or they find them on their own) they’ll get straight to work. This group typically likes to try out new things, and if given the chance, will willingly share their success.


Neutral 80%
The middle section represent the masses, and, in comparison to the Technology Adoption Curve, they represent the Early Majority and Late Majority. Typically, those in this segment are those that don’t receive much attention because they just are. They come to work and do their job without complaint, question, or suggestion.



Negative 10%
This group is often identified as the “squeaky wheel”, and are highly resistant to change. While some may (eventually) transition to change with focused guidance, extra instruction, and extensive support, others simply have no desire to change current practices and behaviors.


It’s important to understand these groups for a variety of reasons. For one, once you know where an individual or group falls on the curve, you and your leadership team may be able to modify for implementation and adoption plan to better address their concerns or take advantage of early successes. A key consideration, however, is at what percent, a push for change meets critical mass and turns from a struggle to a natural flow.

One of the best ways that this is explained is, oddly enough, using an example of tiny ocean creatures: sardines.


In the above video, Dr. Billie McConnell, an experienced Learning Facilitator and Atomic Learning collaborative partner, applies Ian Jukes' Committed Sardines idea to the 10/80/10 model for school leaders striving to make significant, impactful change in their district. Accurately making the point that many times, schools dedicate a significant amount of time to the Negative 10%, when in actuality, if the same time was focused on sharing the successes of the Positive 10%, a district initiative can quite easily reach critical mass among faculty and staff by encouraging a small percentage of those who are neutral.

If you are looking at making a shift in your district, be sure to connect with Atomic Learning for a free consultation on how we can support your school's unique needs.

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