If you were every an athlete in your life then it is very likely that you remember the agony of running drills at 6AM before school so you had a chance to make the team as a third-stringer? Turns out that discipline of getting up early to practice and go after something you really wanted sticks with you even today. And it makes you a better employee because of it. Why is this the case? Here are three main reasons why this is true and some ideas on how you can incorporate them into the way your team works.
1. Feedback is public and immediate. If you’ve been an athlete or musician, you know that positive and critical feedback comes your way instantly in very public settings. If you miss a note, or mess up a play, you know it. There are also the coaches and teachers… most we love to hate but realize later in life they helped us. They’ll give you very specific feedback on your performance in front of the entire group or team! They aren’t waiting 12 months and then write up a vague list of things that you can do better and hand it to you. You get this feedback right away so that you can do something about it! This matters for obvious reasons (it’s immediate) but also because it’s completely transparent to everyone what the performance standards are, and it holds you accountable to your peers.
2. You know who’s better than you. If you play sports, it’s typically pretty clear if someone is better than you, and why. There are depth charts, playing time, and lists of people who get cut. It’s all crystal clear. So if you’re a third-string point guard and want to play more, isn’t it better for you to know clearly who’s better than you and why so you can learn from them? In the work world it may not be as stark, but if you’re a manager and you give a critical assignment to one person and not the other, take the time to explain why you made this decision and what they can do to be in a position next time to get that assignment.
3. Deliberate practice. In the end, it really all comes down to repeated and deliberate practice. Which is a very rare occurrence in the workplace. It’s assumed that we’re all “professionals” who shouldn’t need to practice because we know what to do. Ray Allen is widely regarded as the best 3-point shooter in NBA history, but before every game he shoots 1,000 shots to make sure his release is the same every single time. As managers, it is important to help our teams figure out what skills are central to success and create opportunities to practice getting better at each.
Now when I say “musician” and “athlete,” I’m not talking about the guy who sings at his local bar for karaoke night or the woman who’s an intramural league MVP. I’m talking about people who, for an extended period in their lives, were formally trained to be a musician or an athlete and had to practice and perform on a regular basis. Why? Because they understand the importance of accepting critical feedback and diligently practice to get better. It’s just part of their DNA. And in a work world where most people are just trying not to make waves and piss anyone off, it’s refreshing to have people on the team who demand that you help them be better.
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