True or False? - Practice makes an employee perfect

Aspiring individuals are always keen to develop better skills and improve performance in professional lives. Most share a general notion of ‘practice’ to get better at something.

Indeed, ‘Practice’ is a great way of learning. Athletes, musicians and artists learn a great deal through practice. How does practice fit into the laws of corporate world though? The practice may make a man (or a woman…indeed) perfect, but can it make an employee perfect? Is it just a myth?

At AVION Systems Consulting, we know that the answers to these questions are startlingly different than the common belief.

First, lets understand why this is an important question to ponder on. With ever increasing pressure to improve 'performance', the individual employees in the corporate world are under great pressure to deliver 'results'. The managers are keen to identify the ways to best train their people and keener to keep the training costs as low as possible. The managers want their people to learn, learn a lot more and learn faster. The employees face a strewn up struggle to balance the occasional learning and routine delivery commitments, the two often being exclusive to each other. 

Practice seems like a great method of bringing these elements together.

Practice allows an employee to learn on the job, reducing dependency on external commitments to training programmes to learn. It allows the the managers to keep the training and development costs low as the employees are still working towards set delivery goals. There seems to be some uptake of this idea in the corporate world, e.g. graduate training programmes expect the graduates to learn the skills while bing in an active role. It is important to note one key difference here, the expectations. Practice is seen as a preparatory phase. The managers expect a ‘lesser’ throughout in the practice phases.

So, the next important question is, why it seems that the average employee efficiency does not change in proportion with the employee experience? Doing the same job for a number of years would really allow employees to develop rather advanced skills, which should increase the throughput. This is seldom seems evident.

Lets understand what helps to develop better skills.

The two factors which are significant in developing better skills which are useful for improving efficiency and throughput are,

 - assertive focus or deliberation involved in the practice

 - availability of a foreseer or coach

The term ‘practice’ if often taken synonymous with ‘repetition’ of an activity, doing the same thing again an again with a hope to develop skills. Repetition is necessary, but a variation in the techniques, tools, methods and processed used at each iteration of practice is also important. Not only that, learning how the variation affects the end results is what actually helps to develop skills.

For example, in the game of cricket, if a bowler is trying the same length, line and speed over over and over on the same pitch every day, to perfect his bowling then he is bound to have limited skills. If the same individual is considering different combinations of pitch surface type, weather conditions along with line, length and speed, learning how the end result varies with a change in these factors, then he will develop better bowling skills. The later case demonstrate the principles of ‘assertive focus’ or ‘deliberate practice’.

Deliberate practice is a science fathered by K. Andres Ericsson in mid 19th century.

The deliberate practice draws on the theory of cognitive learning, analysis of performance and psychological aspects of learning like minimising the frustration from the 'trial-and-error-' type learning.

With the notion of ‘deliberate practice’ comes the notion of feedback. Practice and learning from the feedback of the practice improves skills. It is a human tendency to allow for ‘plausible’ explanations which justify the shortcomings in the results. This is why a feedback from a coach is essential to develop better skills. A coach is supposed to show impartial commitment to betterment of learner’s skills. A good coach shall also allow for ‘predicting’ the outcome to certain extent, thus foreseeing the outcomes of practice, either from his / her own experience or from the experience of practice with the learners.

Organisations willing to better train their employees should most certainly force deliberate practice and coaching into their action plans. At AVION, we have a wealth of experience in providing focused training in systems integration, requirements management and engineering management, which embrace the principles of deliberate practice to develop better skills.

AUTHOR

RIYA PATIL
B.Eng, MSc, CMgr, MCMI, CAPM

Riya specialises in enterprise transformations through selective use of BPR and SixSigma techniques. She holds a Bachelors degree in Mechanical Engineering from Pune University and a Masters Degree in Business Process Reengineering from Brighton University. She is a Chartered Manager and Certified Project Manager. She is also a trained trainer and a certified Lean SixSigma Black Belt coach. She has a wealth of experience in aerospace manufacturing and supply chain segments.

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