ORG Blog

Practice Does Not Make Perfect

I know it’s bad form to contradict your mother (or any other elder for that matter), but more and more I believe the “practice makes perfect” mantra my Mom regularly espoused, shoots too low to hit the mark.  I am amazed how often I see people and whole corporations happily “practicing” processes and behaviors that are nonproductive at best and destructive at worst.

Now to be honest, reinforcing the value of practicing was never necessary at our house when it pertained to sports.  I was perfectly willing to forego afternoon TV (and homework) to work on my throw to first, my pass catching skills or my hook shot.  Usually, the practice mantra came strongly into play when the topic was trigonometry or Spanish, and Mom was 100% right on both of those.

What is apparent to me in today’s competitive business environment is that leaders have to be willing to change behaviors and/or the processes by which they operate when they are not getting the results they want.  In other words, they have to change and then practice.

For instance, everyone I know in the business world wants highly engaged employees.  Yet very few are willing to take the kind of risks that lead to an engaged workforce, such as pushing decision making to the lowest appropriate level in the organization.  Most are afraid that such a move would result in an unacceptable quality of decisions.

It sounds something like – “Why don’t we let the call center operators decide how best to resolve the situation when a premium customer has a problem?”  And all too often the response is, “because they’ll give the profits away!!”

And they’re right!  Right, that is, if they continue to practice keeping closely held all the relevant information required to make a high quality decision.  Pushing decision making to the people closest to the actual work is a proven best practice when the organization is willing to change and begin to share the key business data and context required to reach a reasoned conclusion and give the workforce training and tools to use when the moment arrives.

What is necessary is not just practice.  Leaders first have to be willing to recognize that the current practice is not getting the bottom line closer to perfect, problem solve their way to a better approach and then commit to practicing it until it is the new practice.

So, we need a new “old” saying.  The closest I can come to it is “Perfect requires committing to and then practicing better approaches.”  But I know someone out there can come up with a better turn of phrase than that.  SO help me out on this one.

Robert Hughes

Partner - Overland Resource Group

Topics: Collaboration Labor Management Sustainable Change