Tag Archives: training

More Practice

“Practice makes perfect,” Melanie grinned.

“No,” I replied. “Practice does NOT make perfect. Practice may make you feel better, repeating grooved, routine behaviors, but, those behaviors may still miss the mark. Practice does not make perfect, only perfect practice makes perfect. It’s not the repetitions, it’s the right repetitions.”

“But, you always say that we learn from mistakes,” Melanie chided.

“Learning is making mistakes, but you have to learn from the gap. What is the future state of performance, what is the current performance, and what’s the gap?”

“So, there is some analysis going on?” Melanie confirmed.

“And, often that analysis is invisible to you because you are getting comfortable with repetition. But, it’s just a feeling. What’s the difference between training and coaching?”

“Training gets you started, but practice makes you better. Learning from mistakes only works when you recognize the mistake, and figure out how to do it differently. And, sometimes we can’t see the mistake, or the correction, as easily as someone else. That’s where a coach comes in.”

“You said you had been through training,” I nodded, “and you were able to describe the training, as scheduled, with a curriculum. What about coaching? How would you describe coaching here?”

Melanie paused for a very long time. “In my days here, coaching seems elusive. I don’t know if I can put my finger on it. Underperformance is more likely met with reprimand and training, more training, back to training. I don’t need more training, I need more practice, perfect practice.”

Beginning of Competence

“What’s the difference between training and coaching?” I asked.

Melanie was a new manager. “I’ve been to training,” she replied. “It’s scheduled, it has a curriculum, it’s disciplined. Someone thought through the sequence of learning, identified specific skills.”

“And, when you emerged from the training program, certificate of completion in hand, did that make you a high performer?”

“That’s was my impression,” Melanie said. “But, that impression turned out to be wrong. The training gave me insight into the way we do things around here, but I was certainly not a high performer.”

“You seem to be comfortable in what you are doing now,” I nodded. “That wasn’t the result of the training?”

“Not hardly. I learned, possessed some technical knowledge about our methods and process, but I was very much a newbie.”

“Technical knowledge, but not competence? On the other hand, you appear competent now. What happened?”

“Practice,” Melanie smiled. “Technical knowledge will only get you so far. Competence requires taking those first steps, hands on, then practice, lots of practice.”

Something HR Cannot Do

“As you describe training vs coaching, I get this sinking feeling,” Marie shook her head. “Coaching is time consuming, tedious. I have important things that I have to get done. I simply don’t have the time. Isn’t this something HR could handle?”

I waited. Marie knew the answer to her last question.

“Marie, you are a manager,” my turn to nod. “What more important task, project, responsibility do you have than to build the infrastructure of your team. The reason you have all of these other important things to do, is because you did a lousy job of coaching, building your team in the first place. You do this job well, your life, as a manager will be wonderful. You do this job (coaching) poorly, your life as a manager, will be miserable, and for a very long time.”

But, Training is the Easiest Option

“But, training is my easiest and fastest way to get James some help,” Marie protested. “I told you I don’t have time to coach.”

“There is a short story about someone, at midnight, looking for the keys they dropped in the parking lot,” I started. “Where did you drop your keys was the question. Over there, by my car, was the response. Then, why are you looking over here? Because there is more light over here.”

“You are saying I am looking in the wrong place?” Marie asked.

“Training is the easiest and fastest. You can shove James off to someone else, but that may not be what James needs. Training only gets you so far. Did you know I was a champion ice skater?”

Marie was surprised at this turn in the conversation.

“Little known fact,” I said. “At least I will be a champion ice skater if you will agree to be my coach. Two things you know about my ice skating behavior – I have a strong right push off the skate, and my bootlaces are untied. As a habit, I am sloppy about my equipment. The knots in my laces are loose and within minutes, they come apart, the laces drag the ice. As my coach, you want to be positive, but my laces are untied. Do you ignore this weakness, or is it part of your obligation, as a coach, to deliver some negative feedback?”

“Well, yes, I have to tell you to tie your bootlaces,” Marie was hesitant.

“So, I tie my laces, secure. Am I now a champion ice skater?”

“No,” Marie was more sure of her response.

“Training only gets my bootlaces tied. Champions only come through coaching. You have to get my bootlaces tied, but if you want me to be a champion, you have to work with my strong right push. James may understand, through training, about schedules, workloads and capacity, but if you want James to become a champion, it requires coaching.”

No Time to Coach

“But, I don’t have the time to coach James,” Marie complained. “He should be able to figure this out on his own. I’m a manager, not a mentor, we have work to do. I don’t have time to be a counselor to everyone on the team. Can’t I just send him to training?”

“Interesting use of mixed metaphors,” I replied. “Let’s look carefully at the four managerial processes you used in the same sentence.”

  • Coaching – is a process where you work with the team member to fully understand the role, the scope of the role, required behaviors, supportive habits to get the work done.
  • Mentoring – is a process, usually performed, not by the manager, but the manager-once-removed (MOR) to help the team member discover their own potential, and seek opportunities to apply that potential in training, stretch projects and career ladder progress over time.
  • Training – is a process, usually prior to an expected behavior to learn, step by step, the mechanics of that behavior and the skill required to competently engage in that behavior.
  • Counseling – is a process where a manager only has a limited scope. Usually centered around a personal, issue, the manager may seek to clarify, share a similar experience and then, if appropriate, refer to a professional skilled and experienced at assisting people with those types of issues. Don’t play amateur psychologist.

“All of these processes are valuable, but the application will depend on the context.”

The Big Difference Between Training and Coaching

Tyler finally had a question. “So, have we been wasting out time training our people?”

“Training is not a waste of time, it is how you train that determines its effectiveness.” Tyler squirmed. His company spent thousands of dollars on management training the prior year.

“Tyler, let’s take a fun example. Ever play video games?” Tyler nodded and flashed a huge grin. “How did you learn to play that game? Did it come with an instruction manual? Did you go to the bookstore and buy the Insider’s Guide to the game?”

“No way, I just sat down and started playing it.”

“And what is your competence level?”

“Well, I am at a level 40, now, but over the weekend, I think I can get my character to level 50. That’s as high as I can go with the character in this clan.”

“So, you are telling me that you became an expert. Did you become an expert because their instruction manual was so well written? Did the quality of the Insider’s Guide (that you never bought at the bookstore) have a significant impact on your learning this new behavior?”

“No, I just played the game. My character got killed a few times, but I learned how to navigate around the danger zones. I learned how to engage other characters in battle. I learned out to accumulate powers. Every time I did something right, I got points. Every time I did something stupid, I lost points. My points accumulated, my character got stronger, I leveled up. All around the screen are status panels that give me constant real time feedback on where I am in the game and how I am doing.”

“And you did all this without reading the instructions or attending a training class?” I asked. Tyler nodded yes again. “Tyler, you learned to play the game at an expert level because the game was designed to positively reinforce desired behavior. This positive reinforcement was meticulous and frequent. There were established goals and measurement systems to track progress and status.

“Next week, we will get back together and talk more about training.”

Before or After?

Tyler’s curiosity had moved to intrigue.

“What gets reinforced gets repeated,” I said. We had been talking about positive reinforcement and its impact on behavior. “That’s why measurement and feedback loops are so important.

“Here is the insight,” I continued. “Most managers focus their time before the behavior. Most managers provide training and give lectures on the way things should be done and then wonder why they don’t get the desired behavior. Most managers think their biggest influence on behavior occurs before the behavior.

Let’s meet, let’s plan, let’s discuss, let’s show.

“All of this occurs before the behavior and has minimal impact.

“The payoff, the big influence is after the desired behavior occurs. That’s when to pay the most attention. What gets reinforced gets repeated.”

Training Does Not Create Competence

The training wasn’t working, but Crystal was looking in the wrong place.

The skill was simple. Enter the data into the computer during the phone call, not after the call. The software was in place, the training program was clear, with exercises and interaction.

The problem wasn’t the training, the problem was AFTER the training. Once training was complete, the operators were literally abandoned. They were introduced to the skill, performed the skill two or three times during the training, but afterwards, NOTHING. Only one day later, all the operators abandoned the new process and were back to taking notes on paper during the call.

“Crystal, I want you to develop some practice sessions following the training. Create some scripts based on the ones used in training. Then have the operators practice, practice, practice.

“And you are going to have to take off your training hat and put on your coaching hat. Your training is only intended to get this process started. Before you let them go, you have to bring them to a level of competence. Competence comes through practice and coaching. Training comes before the behavior. Coaching comes after the behavior.”

Not a Training Problem

“Take a look at this training program,” said Crystal. “We have been over it a hundred times, tweaked it here and there, but quite frankly, it’s not working.”

“What happens when you do the training?” I asked.

“Everyone seems upbeat, like they understand. We even do classroom exercises, but it doesn’t seem to stick. Two weeks later, they are back to doing it the old way, with all kinds of excuses.”

“How much coaching do you do after the initial training?”

“Well, anyone who seems to be having trouble, we write them up and they go back to the next training.” Crystal was visibly upset as she described what happens next. “Sooner, or later, they all get written up and so they all end up back in the training. We put this software in place eight months ago and they still write the orders on paper and put the information into the computer later. Sometimes the paper gets lost or it takes a day or two to catch up. We want real-time order entry, but we are nowhere close.”

“So, there is no real coaching except for sending people back to the beginning?”

“Yes, and every time we go round, the push-back gets stronger. They seem to hate the training,” Crystal said, shaking her head.

“I don’t think this is a training problem. And, if it’s not a training problem, what do you think the problem is?”

No Drill Sergeants in the Jungle

Drill sergeants yell and scream and get results. Why can’t a manager?

Most of us have either worked underneath or know a manager who behaves like a drill sergeant. The descriptions come easy. He runs a tight ship. He manages like his haircut.

But, it occurred to me, there are no drill sergeants in the jungle. Let’s say a squad is on patrol in hostile territory and one team member falls behind, cannot keep the pace. There is no drill sergeant around to demand 50 pushups. There is no yelling in the jungle. Communication may be whispered or signaled, but there is no “I can’t hear yooouuu!”

Drill sergeants work in an artificial environment called training. Their purpose is to instill discipline to exact trained behaviors. Managers work in the jungle. It’s real in the jungle. Production is real. Quality is real. Customer satisfaction is real.

As a manager, the next time you have the urge to yell like a drill sergeant, you might find a whisper more effective.