December 10, 2023

Getting Past Good to Great

Author: Ashley St. John
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When developing a new learning program, the checklist is almost always the same:

  • Proper learning environment
  • Well-written participant guide
  • Legal department approval
  • AV equipment checked and ready
  • Trainers prepared on the delivery end

That’s a healthy list to make sure the training itself goes off without a hitch, but there is one thing missing, and it might be the most crucial. What about attention to implementation? Where is the well-written participant guide with legal approval and trainers prepared for that elephant in the room? Maybe understanding this dilemma requires a bit of empathy on our part.

Think about the last time you learned a new and difficult process. You may not have known it at the time, but learning that process was likely the easy part. Implementing it, however, is almost always the hard part. It really comes down to one simple question: Do you want to marginally improve, or do you want to pour your heart and soul into succeeding?

Let’s use the game of golf as an example. Many are faced with a crossroads when learning how to golf. Watch amateur golfers warming up or playing and you’ll see what I mean. In a sense, you’ll be looking at two types of golfers.

One type of golfer is not very good at what he is doing. This person has been hitting the ball improperly for so long that he has actually become good at hitting the ball badly. Let’s assume there were lessons involved and perhaps a few of the ideas taught were partially adhered to. There was probably some practice, too, but practice is not a lot of fun, so there wasn’t much. There may also have been a nagging voice in his head that said, “Come on, you’re thinking about this too much! You’re actually worse now than you were before you took these lessons! Grab a technique or two, learn it your way, and let’s get back to getting that ball in the fairway.”

There was no other voice that tried to shout back; what had begun as a strict new way of doing things slowly became a distant memory with a stray idea or two done halfway. That particular person will continue to play the game at an amateur level, expecting more, changing little, and baffled by his lack of success.

The other type of golfer is very good at what she is doing. This success did not come by accident or through a series of shortcuts. There were lessons involved, and those lessons were strictly adhered to. There was practice, and a lot of it. There was also a nagging voice that tried to con that golfer away from her disciplined approach: “Come on, this is just too hard. You got the ball in the fairway before these lessons, and you played a decent game of golf! Not only that — you had fun!”

But that voice was shut down by another voice, one that said: “No, I’m going to master this, and that means I’m going to take a step or two back before I move forward.” This golfer went from playing the game in a satisfactory manner to playing worse for a brief period and then ultimately to playing the game at a much higher level. This type of golfer can achieve both a high level of success and enjoyment in playing the game.

The moral of the story is this: When you work at doing something incorrectly long enough, you can actually get good at doing it … badly. But make no mistake: No matter how much harder you work, your level of improvement will level off at good, and you will never be great.

On the other hand, if you work at doing something correctly that is truly challenging, you will almost always get worse before you get better. However, the harder you work, the greater your improvement will be, and the ultimately stronger level of skill you will achieve.

When you help those in your organization learn and perfect challenging skills, implement a new, well-organized process. There won’t be much luck involved; it will be a matter of hard work and discipline. Be aware, however, of that little voice that will likely try to tell your employees to go back to their old way of doing things. Have an implementation plan in place and a little empathy on the side.

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