The 80/20 Rule (Not the one you are thinking of)

August 5, 2008

Some of my most favorite people to speak with are young professionals in the non-profit world.  In most cases they “do” what they “are” – and generally have a very authentic approach to their profession.  And in the Jewish communal world this is constantly evident – the professionals who work in our communities also pray in our communities, socialize in our communities and volunteer in our communities.  They are the personification of sense of Jewish community that we aspire to have felt by Jews throughout or community.  But in my conversations with them I often learn one important aspect of their professional lives…

They are frustrated.

About what?  Well, lots of things. And some things are what we all get frustrated with in our own jobs. The hours, the “customers,” the bureaucracy and the office politics.  Those are the issues all of us have to deal with at one time or another, so those issues are not so startling. But what is most surprising is the subject that often tops their lists…

They are frustrated about their ability to make a difference.

Now that is a big statement, and I don’t want to over-generalize. But I hear it as a constant refrain, regardless of the community they live in or the Jewish organization they work in.  Inevitably during a conversation I wonder aloud if it would be more interesting to be a professional in the Jewish community, rather than what I am – an engaged volunteer. And almost just as inevitably the professional says to me, often with a sense of resignation, “volunteers have a much greater ability to effect change than the professionals do.”

Think about that for a moment.  These individuals have dedicated themselves to a profession that is about effecting change in the Jewish community. Whether it is education, social services, religious, arts & culture or any other of the diverse community services non-profits perform, all of the professionals work in an organization that helps effect some sort of community change.  In children, in the needy, in the spiritually searching – their organizations help effect change.  And these professionals do it with economic sacrifice, personal sacrifice and even emotional sacrifice. And many of them believe…

“Volunteers have a much greater ability to effect change than the professionals do.”

As the quote goes, Houston, we have a problem.  And Atlanta, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. you do too.  We all do. Because when our young professionals aren’t inspired by their own ability to effect change, it is difficult to imagine them inspiring non-professionals to effect change. And we need lots of inspiration, imagination and change. So we really need to have these young professionals, all of our professionals, have confidence in their ability to effect change – interesting important, transformational change.  We need to build that confidence institutionally, interpersonally and communally.  When it comes to Jewish community professionals, we all believe in the importance of them; but critically we need them to believe in the importance of themselves as agents of change.

And here is where the 80/20 rule comes in. But not the 80/20 rule that most of us are familiar with in fundraising – that 80% of the gifts come from 20% of the donors. I mean the Google 20%-time policy where Google engineers are offered the ability to spend 20% of their time on projects they are truly passionate about and that scratch their creative or inquisitive itch.  So long as the engineers spend 80% of the time on their designated efforts, they can use the 20% time on other endeavors. And what has been the result of these 20%-time types of efforts?  Products like AdSense and Google Suggest – products that have made a huge impact on Google and the business of Internet search in general.  All because engineers are given their freedom to pursue those efforts that personally inspire them and which they think will make a difference.

What if our Jewish communal organizations started giving its professionals 20% time?  What if we offered them the opportunity to pursue those efforts within their organization that they think might have a transformative impact but, in the mean time, don’t require 80% of their efforts?  What kind of new initiatives and approaches would be developed that would strengthen their respective organizations and our community as a whole?

Now I can already hear some of the critical responses to this idea. Sure it all sounds well and good, but how are we to be certain the professionals will use the time wisely? What about getting their other responsibilities done in time? How will this impact outcomes, TQM, performance metrics and all the other modern terms we use for attempting to measure organizational success?

Here is my simple answer. Trust them.

We trust our professionals to make good judgment calls with our students, our clients, or partners and our donors. Why can’t we trust them in this instance?  Their instincts are strong and they are committed to the cause – isn’t that justification enough to trust them to use their 20% time wisely?  And the freedom to create will create a renewed sense of ability to transform in each professional – with time comes ability, with ability comes results, and with results come change. The type of change, the type of difference, that inspired these professionals to choose their careers in the first place.

So I think the answers are fairly clear – for 20% of our professionals’ time, our communities would reap 100% of the benefit. And we would be enabling our Jewish community professionals to regain something that so many of them feel they have lost – the ability to make a difference.

And that’s what we need 100% of the time.


One comment

  1. I actually think you need to reverse the 80/20 – in charitable work, people should be spending 80% of their time on projects they feel passionate about, and 20% of their time on ‘designated efforts’. That means selecting people who are truly passionate about your mission. Perhaps the right hiring paradigm for the Jewish community is a political campaign, rather than a corporation.

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