Growing up, coaches everywhere would say, “practice makes perfect.” But here’s the truth – it doesn’t! My dad was the first to realize that the quote, although it sounded nice and crisp, had a serious flaw. “Practice doesn’t make perfect,” he would say, “perfect practice makes perfect.” If you practice and practice with lackadaisical form or bad habits, you won’t be made perfect. You’ll just be more refined in your imperfection. But if you practice with perfect form, balance, and mechanics, you’re bound for improvement and top-tier performance.
Practice with Intention
An organization, much like a sport, cannot and will not improve simply by believing in the theory that “practice makes perfect”– especially if its leaders keep up a broken record of improvement initiatives. One poorly executed strategy after another leads to an apathetic work culture and creates very unperfect change initiatives.
If you hear this: “Here’s another cutting-edge plan for us to win in our marketplace. I bet it won’t last more than a month. Then it’s back to BAU” – then you know your organization doesn’t really have what it takes to survive the long term. Mindsets and behaviors are foundational to culture. Poorly executed change will not only send off the wrong mindset, but wrong behaviors as well. And we know that in today’s competitive marketplace, mediocre behaviors won’t cut it.
A few years ago, I worked with a multinational organization based in Germany. In the span of three years, the company of 19,000 employees underwent four reorgs, three executive turnovers, and one massive merger. With each new shake-up in the business, the CEO and a group of executive team members would travel to each of their sites and unveil their latest and greatest strategy to the mid-level leaders. A 90-slide PPT deck and townhall-structured Q&A was their “best foot forward” whenever they needed to execute or communicate a change.
When they asked us to engage their people in a new way, we started with an organizational survey of engagement and emotion. The overwhelming sentiment we got from the results? “Fatigue.” Change fatigue plagued the culture of this organization. The realities of the business were certainly a prevailing factor of this sentiment, but so were the mechanisms used to communicate, launch, and activate these new priorities to the people in the organization.
Practice the Good, Not the Bad
A saga of ordinary practices that fail can grow into a host of parasites throughout your organization if you let them become status quo behaviors. So when you let mediocre actions become the ones your people “practice,” you won’t just form bad habits, you’ll perpetuate them.
If you want your organization to be perfect, you can’t merely practice. Because your practices have been rooted in monotony and minutia. You must disrupt your change initiatives, perpetuate good habits of change, and foundationally create best practices throughout the organization.
Three Tips to Fine-Tune Your Practicing
To help you become more proficient in practicing, here are three tips to keep in mind:
1: Challenge the status quo.
What to do: As computer programmer pioneer Grace Murray Hopper said, the most damaging phrase in the English language is, “We’ve always done it this way!” Give yourself and your team a good audit. Step back and ask yourself whether there’s a better way to execute a process or routine.
2: Seek others’ opinions.
What to do: Don’t be afraid to ask peers outside your team or organization to keep varying points of view. Stay curious, always listen, and be open to learning from others.
3: Share your ideas with your leaders.
What to do: Coach up! Your leaders are people too and should be open to new ways of thinking. Just because your manager has a standard routine or practice doesn’t mean he or she isn’t willing to hear new ideas. Perhaps no one has brought a better way to his or her attention.
Change the way you change – perfect practice awaits. Do you have suggestions about how to ensure you’re practicing the right things in the right ways? I’d love to hear from you!