In professional services, there is a trap that many fall into – defining the value of our time by our billing rate. There are many challenges that arise from that, but one of the biggest is that we tend to prioritize our time by the “billable” hour and discount the potential value provided by “non-billable” time. Client service trumps internal service (e.g., think coaching, training, process improvement, etc.) Working in the business trumps working on the business. You get the picture.

For leaders, this is a particularly dangerous trap, so finding a way to reframe the idea of billing rate and value can be useful. One leader who has always been effective in this reframing is Bob Bunting, the former CEO of MossAdams. In reframing the hourly rate conversation, he often challenged professionals to think about their $10,000 hour.

The $10,000 hour represents those activities that have the potential to yield a significantly greater contribution to the value of our firms than our standard billing or hourly rate. Leaders who are discerning will prioritize these “non-billable” activities because they see that potential. They recognize that often their “highest and best use” is not to bill their hourly rate, but to invest in something that could create significantly greater value. Consider these examples of potential $10,000 hour activities for leaders or leadership teams:

  • Getting directly involved in recruiting a high-potential to the firm to fill a talent gap
  • Speaking to a select group of decision makers in a targeted growth niche or market
  • Conducting re-recruiting conversations with the firm’s top talent and helping them envision their future with the firm
  • Serving as a coach for emerging leaders in the organization
  • Tackling a firm issue or problem that serves as a barrier or obstacle for others
  • Coaching leaders who need to close a performance gap
  • Relationship building with select contacts who can connect the firm to broader and deeper resources for growth
  • Identifying and supporting entrepreneurial thinking/team members to support innovation and creation of new products/services
  • Working on succession planning for leadership, ownership, and client relationships

The list could go on; however, it’s not endless and it is not every non-billable activity. This list also might look different depending on the role. For example, a $10,000 hour for a Manager might be effectively coaching a team member through a performance issue or helping develop a team member in a new skill or technical area. Regardless of role, the $10,000 hour is that activity that has a potential multiplier effect – an activity that adds value to your firm for the future.

To challenge your own thinking, contemplate your next week, next month, or next quarter. Consider how you are investing your time. What is the highest and best use of your time? What are your $10,000 activities? How are you prioritizing these? For your role, how are you striking the right balance between investing in creating greater value in your firm and delivering great value in billable hours? How effective are others in your organization at identifying and investing in these value driving activities? What might you change?

When faced with choices on how to spend our time, it is helpful to remember this Bob Bunting quote: “Leadership is worth more than our billing rate”. The best leaders know how and when to invest time in the $10,000 hour. To build value in your organization for the future, take time to identify and embrace your $10,000 hour activities and help others do the same.