In the last blog post we discussed the principle of deliberate practice. I wanted to speak a bit more about that in the context of executive coaching. Marshall Goldsmith, rated one of the top coaches in the world by the Wall Street Journal, stated that one of the major problems regarding change is the reluctance to actually buy into the change process. This is not due to anything other than the intimidation of forming a new habit. The brain does not like change until it can see a benefit. Most of the people I coach are extremely successful. The changes we do are relatively minor adjustments to a package that has a long history of doing things right. And when that is the case, the average brain highly doubts the efficacy of making these changes, partly because of lack of need and partly due to lack of knowledge of how to pull this off in the first place.
That is where I believe the whole aspect of deliberate practice can play in so strongly. Some key aspects are necessary in order to pursue this aspect of high achievement.
Discipline – The ability to put off what we want now for something better. Perhaps another phrase would be deferred gratification. Whatever the case, discipline is what sets many people completely apart from the rest of the performers. What motivates us to be disciplined? General psychology would teach that it is either the avoidance of pain or the pursuit of pleasure. For most of the people involved with coaching, it is the pursuit of something much better than they have. Most successful people have a plan and a vision toward which they are working. They have a vision that allows them to see that the work they will have to do is worth the time and effort. One key item that I have noticed is that those that are truly disciplined many times do not see what they have to do as work. They are so passionate about their pursuits that they become absorbed in such focus that the focus seems to be effortless.
Focus – The author of the book Flow, which talks about the psychology of optimum experience, speaks of those moments that become so focused that time seems to collapse. I have had this happen to me various times. I do translation work from English to Spanish. This fascinates me. I was working on a document one day and started about nine in the morning. At about three, I realized that I had completely lost track of time. The production over those six hours had been phenomenal, without any reference to the clock. While I am not recommending that we lose track of time on a regular basis, I am saying that being able to concentrate on one item well and not be distracted is vital to deliberate practice.
In our world of purported multi-tasking, there is much to be said for a single train of thought. Recent research has indicated that multi-tasking in a fallacy. The brain actually processes sequentially, not simultaneously. While some might be able to balance a lot of items at one time, the depth of processing is very shallow and thus not conducive to effective habit change, which is our goal with deliberate practice.
Plan – One of my favorite examples is from the world of golf. One famous golfer, instead of hitting a myriad of golf balls down the driving range, hits ten at a time. He notes each stroke and the distance from the pin. Then he adjusts and goes for another ten. Bucket after bucket after bucket. That is planning to the level of detail that is needed for deliberate and successful practice.
Vision – The above items of discipline, focus, and plan can only be carried off over the long term when there is a vision that allows the motivation that allows discipline, focus, and plan. These are very hard work. They will be many lonely hours that are not fun, at all. However, if you are going down this path of deliberate practice, there must be something that put you there. It is most likely an image of what could be better. Something that you know you can change. It is essential that this vision be as clear as possible. It will be called on when those lonely times make you question if the path is worth it. The clearer it is, the stronger the determination to make it a success.
The world of Human Resources management is becoming ever more complex. Sometimes, admidst the blur of government regulations, high maintenance employees, and bosses who never should have been bosses, we can forget just why we came into the field. We are sometimes looked down on, seen as “those people from HR”, and not included in the strategic vision of the company, while being tasked with the carrying out the vision that we were not included in creating. So how to team up better?
In 2011 McKinsey and Company described some steps that would be helpful to help better address the the gap between the “business mind” and the “HR mind”.
First – Focus HR on business priorities. This means having the same minds in the same room. The mind that leads someone to specialize in finance or marketing is different than the mind that focuses on HR. However, these minds cannot work in isolation and have success. As an HR person, what data do you think is important to gather regarding employees and their performance? How do you measure effectiveness? Are these measures that hold up in all arenas? Are they respected outside the world of HR? Will the finance or marketing mind be influenced by your data? Can you explain reliable, explainable patterns with the data? Does your information serve the needs of the business focus and vision of the company? Do you clearly know what those are? When is the last time you have asked the world outside of your HR world if you are meeting their needs? Do you create hypotheticals that could assist your internal clients to think beyond their worlds and see their objectives through the eyes of their employees?
Second – Instead of being intimidated by these questions, I would encourage you to be energized by them and work towards creating an atmosphere of internal marketing by looking for situations that you can apply your data toward. For example, McKinsey noted a team effort within Google that studied how managers are effective, why they are effective and how to lock in that effectiveness. While this might sound like basic organizational development work, they found eight key behaviors and five behaviors to avoid. This results in better team moral and performance. An HBR study found that a five percent increase in moral among employees increases the bottom line by one percent. May not sound like much, but you can run the math to see the difference.
As HR professionals, you have the abilities to add to the business discussion a unique perspective on corporate decisions. As one person commented on the McKinsey article “I have always had a place at the executive table because I have brought my numbers”. So, if you are uncomfortable with numbers, widen the horizon. Take some classes in quantitative analysis. Find a mentor within the other silos of your company. Consider it a matter of language. Those of the other silos of the company -finance, marketing, sales, accounting – commonly do not speak the language of HR. As with any cultural adjustment, focus on what you can bring to the conversation. If you can show a fluency in their language, the reciprocity can be powerful.
You represent the silo that the company cannot run without. All the other aspects are vital, but without the people, nothing can happen. Build the bridges and watch the results.