10,000 Hours

In his book, Outliers:  The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell posits the notion that it takes at least 10,000 hours of dedicated, focused practice to become “expert” at something.   He holds that this time constraint is relatively constant no matter the endeavor.  Want to become a professional athlete, a rock star, or a uber-successful computer programmer?  Along with natural talent and inclination, it’ll take 10,000 hours of focused practiced.

So how much time is this really?  Just to use easy numbers, let’s say you devote 8 hours per day in dedicated effort to your craft. And let’s say you do this, on average 5 days per week.  That’s 40 hours per week – a full-time job. Over a year, you would complete 2,000 hours (I’m using 50 weeks – you’d take two weeks to wiggle your toes in the sand!). So, it would take you 5 years to become “expert” at activity if it were your full-time job.

This calculation got me thinking about the average tenure of development professionals – somewhere between 1.5 and 2.5 years.  On average folks in our profession give it a couple of years and then move on.  If it takes 5 years of full-time, focused effort to master a particular task or activity, how much longer does it take to master the art and craft of leading donors through the philanthropic process?  I would suggest a good bit longer.

Building an effective development program begins first with attracting quality team members.  Next comes retaining those individuals for much longer than 1.5-2.5 years.   How do you do that? First, realize people typically don’t leave positions because of money.  In fact, according to The Seven Hidden Reasons Employees Leave, by Leigh Branham, money is not even in the top 7 reasons.  Here are the top 7 reasons people leave their employment:

  1. Unmet expectations
  2. Mismatch skills
  3. Lack of coaching and feedback
  4. Limited growth opportunities
  5. Feeling unrecognized or devalued
  6. Overworked
  7. Loss of confidence in senior leaders

By my count 4 out of these 7 reasons directly speak to the role of leadership (“lack of coaching and feedback,” “limited growth opportunities,” “feeling unrecognized or devalued,” and “loss of confidence in senior leaders”).

So, as a leader at your institution, what will you do to keep more of your effective team members well past 10,000 hours?


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