Tag Archives: practice

Practice, Practice

“And, after all was said and done, a lot more was said than done.” Travis chuckled. “I heard that in a seminar once. But maybe it’s true. After the training, some of the people worked the new way, but some didn’t. Over time, the whole process was abandoned. ”

“You know your program really didn’t have a chance. It was missing something critical,” I said.

“I know, you are going to say positive reinforcement, but we all talked it up and everyone got a certificate when the training was over,” Travis defended.

“That’s all very nice, but I am not talking about being nice. I am talking about being effective. In the training you demonstrated a new process. This new process required a new skill, a new behavior.

“Travis, I can show you how to throw a ball, but if you want to get good at it what do you have to do?”

Travis looked puzzled, “Practice?” he said.

I nodded. “Very special practice.”

Practiced, Grooved Behavior

“But, I thought my team was competent. They have worked under this kind of pressure, solved these kinds of problems before,” Marion reported.

“So, what do you think is the problem?” I asked.

“I know we spent a lot of time working from home over the past couple of months. And, now we are back in the office most of the time. Things are different. People stick to their cubicles, practice social distance. It’s like Men-in-Black erased the memories of how well they used to work together.”

“What’s missing now, that was there before?”

“They seem out of practice. It’s not like they are screwing everything up, but they used to be tight. Now, every hiccup creates a little team stumble.”

“Marion, you say they are out of practice. What have they been practicing?”

She chuckled. “They have practiced being apart, practiced being disconnected, working alone, not talking to each other.”

“We are always in practice,” I said. “Just sometimes we practice stuff that’s counter-productive to where we want to go. We get good at what we practice. If we practice being lazy, we get good at being lazy. If we practice enough, it becomes a habit. Don’t practice things you don’t want to get good at.”

Performance Improvement Depends on This

“Have you ever watched a parent teach their child to walk?” I asked.

“Yeah. I have a niece that is learning to walk. Her parents go goo-gah regularly, but still it’s a wobbly process.”

“Does a parent ever say – No, that’s not the way to do it, let me show you. Don’t fall down like that?”

“Well, no. They just get all excited, clap their hands and gurgle baby talk.”

“Somewhere along the way, we lose our natural instincts in the training process. Behavior that is reinforced gets repeated. The two elements that were missing from your training last year were practice and immediate positive reinforcement.

“Initial attempts at a new skill or new behavior are usually terrible, but that’s not the point. Your job as a manager is to get excited and encourage. Put people in a place where they can try again and get better.

“Look, Travis. When do parents give up encouraging their child to walk?”

Travis was still mentally drawing lines in the analogy. “They never stop, I guess. Only when the kid learns to walk.”

Special Practice

“You did some training last year, tell me about it.”

“Well, first, we invested a decent budget. This was a new process we were working on. We spent a lot of time looking at different programs. We put together a decent PowerPoint, even hired an outside trainer.” Travis stopped.

“And?” I said.

“And, after all was said and done, a lot more was said than done.” Travis chuckled. “I heard that in a seminar once. But maybe it’s true. After the training, some of the people worked the new way, but some didn’t. Over time, the whole process was abandoned. ”

“You know your program really didn’t have a chance. It was missing something critical,” I said.

“I know, you are going to say positive reinforcement, but we all talked it up and everyone got a certificate when the training was over,” Travis defended.

“That’s all very nice, but I am not talking about being nice. I am talking about being effective. In the training you demonstrated a new process. This new process required a new skill, a new behavior.

“Travis, I can show you how to throw a ball, but if you want to get good at it what do you have to do?”

Travis looked puzzled, “Practice?” he said.

I nodded. “Very special practice.”

The Practice of Delegation

“I’m a little disappointed,” explained Ruben. “Disappointed in myself.”

“How so,” I asked.

“Since I was promoted to manager, everyone said I should delegate more stuff. So, I tried.”

“What have you tried?” I prompted.

“Well, I bought three books on delegating. I finished one and I am reading the second.”

“So, what’s changed, for you?”

“Nothing really. I mean, they are really good books, but I still do everything myself.”

“Ruben, delegation is a skill, a skill that can be learned. Every skill has two parts. The first part is technical knowledge. That’s the stuff you have been reading about in those books.”

“What’s the other part?” Ruben asked.

“The other part is practice. You actually have to get out there and practice. I really don’t care how much you know. I am interested in what you can do.”

Competence and Habits

“How are habits connected to competence?” I asked.

Muriel looked at me and remembered. It was a short trip down memory lane. “When I first became a manager,” she started, “I was awful. I thought I was such a hot shot, walking around telling everyone what to do. Within a couple of weeks, productivity in my department was at an all time low, and I couldn’t figure it out.

“So, I started asking questions. Instead of telling my team how to do the work more efficiently, I began asking them how they could do the work more efficiently. I didn’t do it very often, but when I did, remarkable things happened. Over time, I got better at asking questions. Practice. Practice makes permanent. Now, asking questions is a habit.”

“So, describe the competence connected to the habit?” I pressed.

“The competence is challenging my team. Challenging them to higher levels of performance, productivity, efficiency.”

“So, competence is about acquiring a new habit.”

Two Parts to a Skill, Knowledge is Only One

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“We were excited about this new hire,” Erica announced.

“Why all the excitement?” I asked.

“We were searching for just the right candidate, with experience on our software. We finally found one, he started last week,” she explained.

“So, why am I here?”

“We wondered if you could help us. Our new hire seems to know all the technical ins and outs of our software, but he can’t seem to solve even the simplest of problems with it.”

“How do you know he that he understands the software?” I probed.

“Well, he has two certifications in it, fundamentals and advanced. During the interview, he walked us through some of the software screens and he could explain what each of the menu items does. I was quite impressed,” Erica defended.

“So, he has the training, he can speak the language, you believe he has the skill. But there is still something missing. You know, skill comes in two parts. The first part is the technical knowledge. But the second part is practice. In the interview, did you ask questions about practice? Not, how does the software work, but what problems he solved using the software? How many problems he solved using the software? How big were the problems using the software? How different were the problems using the software? Did you have the candidate step you through some of the problems he solved?”

Skills Training, Necessary but Not Sufficient

“Look at this,” Phil exclaimed. “We just had the training on this last week. And I just pulled samples from the prototypes. Thank goodness this isn’t a production run. I ought to fire the whole lot of them.”

I winced. “Yes, I guess you could fire them, all eight of them. But then you would have to run the line yourself. I don’t know if you could keep up.”

“You know what I mean. I’m not going to fire anybody. I’m just frustrated. Maybe it’s our training department. Maybe we need to look at the training program.”

“Perhaps,” I said. “You know, when people acquire a skill, I mean really acquire a skill, it takes more than a training program.” Phil looked at me, like I was from Mars.

“When you were a kid, did you ever learn how to throw a ball?” I continued. Phil nodded. “So, someone showed you how to throw, and you threw one ball and then you were an expert?”

Phil laughed. He suddenly knew where I was going with this. “Of course not. I had to throw a hundred balls. I had to practice. My mom was my coach.”

“So, what do you think is missing from your training program?”

Phil’s eyes narrowed. His head began to nod. “Practice and coaching.” And with that, he scooped up the samples, turned on a dime and headed for the production floor.

I Don’t Care What the Candidate Knows

“I don’t understand,” Rachel quizzed. “When I interviewed this candidate for the position, he knew all the technical angles of the job. Now that I hired him, it’s like he is clueless.”

“What do you think the problem is?” I asked.

“It’s the difference between talking a good game and actually playing the game,” she observed. “But when he talked about the job, he sounded like he had been doing this for years.”

“So, what do you think the problem is?” I repeated.

“Just knowing the job isn’t enough. You actually have to have done the job.”

“And your conclusion?” I nodded.

“Technical skill comes in two parts. One part is the technical knowledge. That is what I asked questions about. The other part of skill is practice. Execution takes practice. I didn’t ask interview questions about the practice part. How did the candidate practice the skill part? Frequency of practice? Depth of practice? Accuracy of practice? At the end of the day, I don’t care what the candidate knows, I care what the candidate can do.”

Skill Development is About Practice

“How different is this new department?” I asked.

“Oh, it’s different. The department I run now is full of technicians. This new role is all about merchandising and promotion. I will have to learn a lot,” Marsha replied.

“But, it sounds interesting to you?”

Marsha nodded. “Yes, it sounds interesting. More than that, I have always had an interest in marketing. I mean, I know I am in charge of a technical department, so this would be a challenge for me.”

“What will have to change?”

“There will be a learning curve, to get up to speed. There are lots of things I don’t know,” she admitted.

“Here’s the thing about any skill. There is always technical knowledge you need to know. But technical knowledge is learn-able. And, to get good at it, you have to practice. You may have an interest in marketing. You may have read a couple of books about it, but you have not practiced it. If you want to get good at it, you have to commit to practice.”