A few thoughts on social change movement HR strategy

Social change work is hard, long term work.

Like most hard work, it takes a lot of practice to get really good at it.  Malcolm Gladwell in “Outliers” claims that it takes about 10,000 hours (10 years) of practice to really master something.  I don’t see why social change organizing/campaigning should really be any different.

People who have the skills to be outstanding social change activists have lots of choices and opportunities in their professional life–they have the leadership, analysis and “getting things done” skills to be valuable in many fields.

So, given these realities, are social change movements structuring themselves to attract highly skilled potential superstars and to retain them for the 10 years it takes to attain mastery… and beyond, into the most highly productive years that follow?

In my anecdotal experience, not so much.  To me, the sector looks like its strategy is more “burn and churn.”  Get ’em in while they’re young, pay ’em as little as possible, and work ’em hard for 3-5 years until they burn out.  Minimal investment in tactical skills, strategic thinking or leadership skills.  The survivors become the next generation of leaders.

In a world where it’s organized people vs. organized money, why aren’t we doing a better job of investing in our people?

Update: Some great discussion on this post over at Google+.

3 thoughts on “A few thoughts on social change movement HR strategy”

  1. I couldn’t agree more. I think that those organizations that are looking to create real change need to invest energy in developing their staff talent for growth and leadership in the same way they nurture and grow their organization and mission. There is too much of a focus on simple low-cost solutions and band-aid approaches and not enough on long term sustainable impacts. Investing time to create an organizational staffing force behind your mission will only lead to greater success! When young people burn out because they are underpaid and undervalued, they leave the effort and an organization ends up reinvesting those same dollars over and over again!

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