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10,000 hours rule and Management Development

February 19, 2016


The 10,000 hours rule says this:  If you purposefully practise for approximately 10,000 hours on your chosen skill, then you will become world class in the application of that skillset. In the sports world, Andy Murray and Tiger Woods are examples of this. In the business world, Bill Gates and Richard Branson are examples.


The key words are Purposeful Practice - if you just turn up and go through the motions, then of course you will be building up experience and a little expertise, but not much more. Take driving as an example. You start to drive after passing your test and, at an average of 40 miles an hour, it will take 400,000 miles before you reach 10,000 hours behind the wheel, which most people will never achieve. Most of us also never get close to becoming as skilful as a professional racing driver because, after the test, we stop practising and only develop because we gain experience from day to day driving.


So, let's look at the development of managerial skills. Firstly, what are the skills managers need to have?


Appreciation of how managers add value is the starting point that leads to them understanding what skills they need to develop. We routinely ask managers this question right at the start of the programmes we run:


"How do you add value for the business that pays your salary?"


Often, we get this answer:


"By ensuring that company-set production targets are met."


Our reply is this:


"What happens when you go on holiday then?"


We're often met with silence to this question, as it dawns on them that adding value isn't just about ensuring production is being met, as this could be happening in spite of them.


So what is management all about?


Taking delegated company targets and organising the team to perform duties that accomplish these, is just the front end of the managerial task.


The quote 'Decide the mission - look after my people" (anon), seems to set it up nicely.


Now let's take a dose of reality.


How much time does a manager devote to their own development? For many the answer is, none.


They may have been sent on an in-house training programme for a few days, maybe studied at night school or perhaps taken a business degree. In reality, very little time or thought has gone into understanding how to become a great manager. Many people flounder around in their early career, until they gain the confidence of time to 'tell people what to do', because now they understand the job the other person does, by observing it.


They have got to this position because, in most cases, they have taken time to study and practise a technical skill through school and college, and maybe university. They have learnt to value this technical skillset with practice and time on the job.


The sad reality is therefore that most new, and some experienced, managers only tolerate the skills of managing and very few really understand what they need to practise and get better at.


So what skills and practices do we need to develop as a manager?


Managers need to have:

  • Worked out how they add value; and

  • What skills they need to develop to enable them to add value

  • Learnt how to practise those skills; and

  • How to gain valuable feedback to ensure they continue to learn.

On this point, in his book "Black Box Thinking", Matthew Syed put forward the argument that unless you fail and learn, you won't develop the skills necessary to be successful. He also makes this point: in golf, if you practise hitting balls, you can see what happens and then make the slight and necessary adjustments to the variables in your golf swing that then change the outcomes. Hit the golf balls in the dark, and you will have no idea what is happening and if what you are doing is working.


How can we apply this thinking to how we develop our managers?

What are they practising to get better at?

How are they getting immediate feedback so they can learn and develop?

How can they fit this into their already very busy schedules?


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