The Hardest Thing A Leader Says…The Last 2%

2% percentage rate icon on a white background

This is post two of four on church staff values. You can get context from my first post, here: Information Sharing.

 “Your work is not meeting expectations and must improve for you to continue working here.”

“The way you are treating me and others on the staff is unacceptable.”

“When you come to meetings late and unprepared, it reflects poorly on you, your ministry, and me as a leader.”

“As I reviewed your receipts from the most recent conference you attended, I saw some expenditures that caused me concern, and I want to discuss them further with you.”


These are a few “last 2%” statements. Last 2% statements are the most important things we need to say in a conversation in order to make it effective – but often, they never get said.

We talk around them. We say the other 98% which hints at them. But when the meeting is over, we find that we never said clearly that one thing we really needed the other person to hear. And when that happens, the behavior or issue in question will often fester and reappear.

I first heard the phrase “say the last 2%” from Willow Creek Community Church’s Pastor Bill Hybels. In Willow’s staff culture, the last 2% seems to be an understood and meaningful phrase.

If your staff can develop a last 2% culture, you can get to the crux of matters. But that means you have to do these things first…

…Say goodbye to passive-aggressive behavior.

…Say goodbye to ambiguity in conversations.

…Say goodbye to indirect supervision that doesn’t lead to change behavior.

When our staff began trying to develop this value, it wasn’t long before I had staff come into my office and say they needed help with a last 2% conversation.  Or they said to me, “I need to have a last 2% conversation with you,” (translated, Brian, brace yourself).

Saying the last 2% doesn’t give permission to constantly lower the boom on people. It doesn’t ignore what you know about their personality and how they receive information best. It just means that what you have to say is important, they need to hear it, and in most cases, they need to respond with action.

Here are some takeaways, about how to have a successful “last 2%” conversation.

The last 2% …

…Must be the clearest statement you make in the conversation.

Think through it. Hybels says about preparing for hard conversations, “People will only remember a few sentences from our conversation, so I want to work hard to selected accurate phrases of note.”

…Is seasoned with grace.

If the last 2% comes out of a healthy relationship, it shouldn’t rock (or wreck) anyone’s world. It may not be pleasant, but it’s not a relationship killer. Saying hard things can be done gracefully. Jesus and Paul did it often.

…Invites accountability, and requires a follow-up plan.

A good last 2% delivery lets them know the issue, and what needs to be done in response. Just as your 2% statement should be free of ambiguity, so should your plan of action and expectation. It should be followed with a timeline and a plan for follow-up accountability.

…Is a statement you’re committed to.

You don’t want to say the hard thing unless you’re convinced it’s the right thing to say. You only have so much relationship and leader capital, and you have to use it when it’s right. You also have to show commitment to delivery. One you get into a conversation and they share an excuse, cry, or some other distraction occurs, it’s easy for them to walk out of the office without the 2%. Write it down and know that you have to get your last 2% across, no matter what.

Excellent leaders can deliver thoughtful last 2% statements as needed.

Excellent Christian leaders can deliver thoughtful, prayed about, , grace-based last 2% statements as needed.

I’ve found that a last 2% culture allows church staffs to do effective Kingdom work, even more efficiently.

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