What Could 10+ Years At The Same Company Teach Us?
By Bogdana Boncheva * 6 min read
Just three years at my current company, I was already starting to feel restless — eager for new challenges, wondering if I’m moving fast enough with my career and life in general. In a world where the food needs to be at our doorstep 45 mins after ordering and a profession is advertised as teachable in an online crash course, three years seemed like a decade.
To catch up with the fleeting seconds, I looked into how the professionals I admire got to their soaring career heights on time. I have never realised that they all have something in common: they have all spent 10 or more years at their current organisations. So I decided to explore what made them stay for so long and what could ten or more years at the same place teach you.
I had the great opportunity to speak to each of those 10 professionals and much to my surprise some common patterns emerged, despite the fact that they work in different countries and have different professions: a government official, a doctor, a classical musician, a lawyer, Directors in Editorial, Tech, Delivery, etc.
Here’s what they all agreed on:
Learning to get your point across takes years
Turns out there is no fast track to building up respect and authority. While some relationships are built faster than others, the genuine trust of people is gained after years of overcoming difficult situations together. Getting your voice heard and understood only works when you’ve established yourself as someone who could be trusted as an expert and as a person.
So how is this helpful and can I expect that I’ll manage to get all the needed trust to get my point across by just sitting around for 3 more years?
Just like with everything else, rapport comes at its own price. Many of the interviewed professionals mentioned the sacrifices they needed to make in order to become really good at their crafts. It took learning and experimenting in every way possible on weekends and during vacations.
The better they became, while staying at the same organisations, the more responsibilities they got. It is through the increased responsibilities that they ended up leading in difficult times, which gained them trust and amplified their voices.
Getting to the next level is a slow but steady growth
Regardless of the profession or the industry, 8–9 years at the same place was pointed as the least amount of time needed for getting to a level of a meaningful impact.
“As assignments and managers change, the essence of the experience crystallises over the years. Every day of experience counts.”
Nina Stoyanova, the first woman concert-master of the Rouse Philharmonic Orchestra
Most of the interviewed professionals described experience as the perspective that you get over time. That perspective is gained through trying different roles, even if across the horizontal career path. As long as the roles are in the same organisation, they give you a chance to help others and to build relationships within different teams. Collaborations with colleagues from different departments and functions was pointed as crucial for building skillset breadth.
Getting to the next role may not be easy. Not everyone gets to the next level on their first try. From personal experience, that may feel devastating after all the investment and sacrifice.
The temporary setbacks may make it seem that further growth is not possible, but there is a way around that. In the words of Sarah Wells, Tech Director, Financial Times:
“It takes time to gain expertise and each role prepares you for the next one. Find a problem that you want to tackle and go solve it. Things will start to get possible.”
Don’t give in to mundane days
Spending years at the same place also means you get comfortable. Sometimes way too comfortable. It’s not even something to complain about to friends. Predictable work days seem like a champagne problem to anyone fighting the usual work stress.
The advice on this problem ranges from “try sports” to “have this solved by your manager”.
Eventually something new always comes up. Until then, here’s an inspiring quote from Victoria Morgan-Smith, Delivery Director, Financial Times:
“Find what’s interesting and try to do it. Put in the time to find the variety you need. If you have a mundane day, you have the power to make it un-mundane.”
Accepting change becomes easier
Finally something that gets easier with time.
All types of organisations go through changes. Sometimes these are frequent changes. Sometimes they are long overdue. What matters is to accept the change, even when that is hard. As Nikolay Bonchev, attorney at law, running his own practice for many years, puts it:
“ You accept the change, no questions asked. This is a part of being a professional.”
It seems that the changes that bring significant improvement stick. The ones that aren’t helpful get reversed naturally.
When there’s a major change, this may be the time to shine. Contributing by consulting teams and preparing them to deal with the new ways of working may make change adoption easier. Helping streamline a major change may also reduce one’s own anxiety of the new and the unknown.
Most importantly, adapting to change gets easier with seniority and becomes just another habit over the years.
Build up a legacy that makes the difference
What better reward after 10 or more years at the same place than leaving a meaningful trace in the organisation.
While that looks different for the different professions, it is mainly about growing others. It is also about knowing that the sacrifices that enabled personal growth paid off.That someone else could benefit from the knowledge without having to go through the same amount of hardships.
Coming up with a better way to do things may be possible sooner than 10 years. But the senior positions that allow for a larger contribution to others’ growth are rarely reached in a shorter amount of time.
That doesn’t mean we should stop trying to introduce improvements at a wider level before we last a decade in one place. It means that these improvements will need to stand the test of time before really making the difference at a meaningful scale.
Much like passive investing, the time that you are willing to invest in an organisation brings benefits after 10 or more years. It is a certain gain, not just for yourself, but for others too. It is up to the organisations to create a system of overarching values that bring the best out of people. And it is up to us, the professionals, to find the organisations, which values align with ours, so that we will want to stay long enough to make the difference.
Special thanks to my parents Nina Stoyanova and Nikolay Bonchev and my colleagues at the Financial Times: Mustafa Sogancilar, Victoria Morgan-Smith and Sarah Wells for being the big inspiration for this piece.