Practice: Why so little of it in business?

Does practice make perfect?  Probably not.  Perfection is a pretty high bar, but most people would agree that practice can improve game-day performance for individuals and teams alike.  Most of us have first-hand knowledge that this is true. Whether you grew up playing a musical instrument or a team sport, you likely practiced your skills for hours on end to learn and improve so that when you performed in a concert or played a sanctioned game, you were ready to be at your best. The finest musicians and most skilled athletes in the world continue to practice all the time to stay in top form.  So it begs the question that if practice makes perfect (or at least much better) then why do we do so little of it in business?

Good vs great

If you Google “practice in business,” you’ll find pages of links on “best practices” in business.  Conduct a search for practice in golf, and you’ll discover a list of links that actually address how to “practice” your golf game.  It’s a simple but telling illustration of how little emphasis we place on practicing in business.  It may simply be a byproduct of Jim Collins‘ axiom, “Good is the enemy of great.”  He explains by saying essentially that because we have good schools we don’t have great schools.  That we don’t have great government because we have good government. The problem here isn’t so much about settling for good; it’s about believing that good is “good enough.”  Hardly an attitude that’s likely to result in world-class performance.

Building skill through practice

As CEOs think about competing and thriving on the global stage in the next decade, they’d be wise to ask every one of their employees to watch the Olympic Games.  Watching the games, one becomes acquainted with the world’s best athletes who, with countless hours of practice, have honed their skills to near perfection. Ask yourself how a gymnast does what she does on a four-inch beam or how a winning crew achieves a level of alignment that most companies only dream about.  It’s through practice – lots of it!

In his 1990 book The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of the Learning Organization, Peter Senge covered the importance of creating practice fields in business. Take a moment, if you will, to share how you create practice fields in your company.  Peer advisory groups?  Live simulations?  Retreats?  Gaming?  No individual or team receives an Olympic medal for just being good.  It’s not likely that your business will thrive on the global stage over the next 10 years for just being “good” either.  Tell us how you conduct practice to make your company the best.  Or tell us how you plan to!

Category: Leadership

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About the Author: Leo Bottary

Leo J. Bottary is an adjunct professor for two of Seton Hall University's graduate level programs in strategic communication and leadership.  Leo has enjoyed a 25-year career counseling leaders in the areas of strategic comm…

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  1. Bridget Farrands

    July 30, 2012 at 8:05 am

    I could not agree more with this piece.  We expect Olympic athletes to practice, practice, practice for hours a day to perform at their best, but we expect our managers and leaders – whether new or long in post – to ‘just get on with it’.  Occasionally they may go on a training of some kind – and the more senior the more sexy the school they will go to! – but using the everyday life they have at work as a practice field is not how leaders think.  You may like to look at the work we have been doing with a retailer on a learn-as-you-work-as-you-learn approach which uses real work, real meetings, real interactions with each other as a practice ground.  Thank you for posting this….I will be tweeting this!  Let’s get the word out more…..

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