Practice Makes… Better!

In the last blog post I shared some tips for preparing for a political debate. While we all may not be practicing for a political debate, we should be practicing for the hard conversations we regularly have at work. When is the last time you shared candid feedback? How did it go last time you negotiated a project budget or schedule? Do you feel comfortable leading conversations around organizational change?

These conversations are hard. And managers who are good at those conversations are managers who have had consistent practice. Ericsson’s extensive research establishes an intriguing argument that a combination of experience and practice (and a lot of it) is what makes an individual excel at a particular task.

Malcolm Gladwell provides examples of the 10,000 hours of practice rule in his Outliers book, including Bill Gates practicing his coding skills from the time he was in 8th grade and the Beatles practicing their music in garages and local bars. With both examples, Gladwell claims that copious amounts of deliberate practice led to extraordinary skills.

However, to practice 10,000 hours of providing employees with feedback would mean that a manager sit behind her desk and provide feedback to individuals 8 hours a day for 3.5 years straight. Let’s be honest – that sounds miserable.

So how much practice do we really need to get better? Good question. Since I have some practice in researching, I thought I would do a quick summary of what I found:

  • In the past 5 years, almost 650,000 scholarly articles have been written on topics related to practice and performance.
  • Almost half of the research on practice and performance (close to 300,000 articles) has been conducted in the fields of engineering and medicine.
  • There are around 65,000 articles related to practice and performance in the business field.
  • A recent meta-analysis of practice and performance found that deliberate practice accounts for less variance than what was proposed by Ericsson.

Here at SkillStore we think any amount of practice enhances performance. We don’t think it is enough to view a microlearning lesson. We also don’t think it’s enough to observe other’s practicing. If you want to get better at having hard conversations, you need to practice having hard conversations.

Our app uses a different approach. With the SkillStore app you video record yourself delivering your message, you review the recording to evaluate your content and communication style, you make improvements, and you complete the cycle again. In fact, after viewing user data, we have found that most users practice between 6 to 8 times before posting a recording. We know that isn’t the same as sitting behind a desk and doing something every day for 3.5 years straight, but we also know a performance review will be more enjoyable for the manager and employee if the manager has prepared key points and delivery techniques.

And we have data to support this belief. In a pilot study, 11 of 14 participants agreed the practice sessions were valuable or highly valuable. As one of our users said about video-recording herself practicing a difficult conversation: “It was a little strange to do as being on ‘camera’ can be challenging to ‘watch’. However it made me really think about how I wanted to respond.” During a follow-up focus group, participants shared that while it was intimidating at first to record themselves, it was really helpful to take a step back, think about topics (such as valuing your strengths), and review their own responses – critically evaluating their message and communication style. That’s exactly what we think too!

Want to learn more about SkillStore? Request a demo below to see how SkillStore can improve management and leadership programs at your company.