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Practice Makes Perfect

I have recently started to learn the guitar.  After many months of trying to teach myself (sporadically) from books and DVDs / videos, and not getting very far, I have taken the plunge and engaged a guitar teacher.

The way he is teaching me has caused me to reflect on the way we typically teach people in areas such as leadership or business skills.

Every week I have a 30 minute lesson with my teacher.  In the lesson we review the things I was shown the previous week, and which I have been practising in the time since the last lesson, and then he shows me some new things.  He shows me enough to give me a challenge and keep me interested but not so much that I get overwhelmed.  In the week following the lesson my job is to practise the new elements (as well as keeping up practice on older elements) so that I am reasonably proficient by the next time I see him – and so the cycle continues.

This approach is quite different from that often taken to the development of management / leadership / business skills.  Here, ‘trainers’ often bring a group of leaders together for a number of days; give them lots of new ideas and tools; perhaps provide them with an opportunity to try some of these out in a safe environment; and then unleash them back to the real world to put everything into practice -  without any review point in the future.

In terms of playing the guitar, I’m finding that it’s only through regular application and practice that I am starting to build the ‘muscle-memory’ that makes finding the chords and my way round the guitar easier and more fluid.  I can’t imagine how I would have coped if my teacher had tried to give me everything I needed to know about playing guitar in (say) a three day session.  I don’t think I would have coped.  I would have had bleeding fingers; too much information to think about; and probably a feeling of inadequacy and overwhelm at the gap between my current (lack of) ability and where I wanted to get to.  It is very likely that I would simply have given up as it was all too hard.

So it may be little wonder that we regularly talk to individuals and organisations who are frustrated that much of their investment of time and money in training and development is wasted by lack of application of new tools and thinking into day to day roles.  As we have all experienced, when we get back to our desks after a training course, there are always emails and telephone calls to respond to; urgent deadlines to hit etc. etc. and more often than not what has been learnt is not put into practice and is quickly forgotten.

This is where a coaching approach to development can make a real impact.  Through coaching people to help them apply newly learned skills, or to work on particular areas they are looking to develop (separate from formal training) they are more likely to focus on key areas rather than try and work on ‘everything’.

The coaching conversation encourages the individual to reflect on their progress and what they are noticing when they apply new skills, and to provide a sense of accountability in the individual through checking in on progress and any issues they may have had in doing their ‘homework’.  As a result of the longer-term nature of the relationship there are always opportunities to review or go back to things – unlike the two day training course where there is always of sense of needing to move onto the next thing.

Research has shown that there is a much higher level of retention and application of knowledge in programmes that are spaced out vs. delivered in long blocks.  The opportunities for application and reflection in such programmes and in coaching interventions deliver better outcomes for individuals and organisations.

My current guitar experience reinforces this for me.  I look forward to learning some new  elements each week because I know that the application will be manageable amongst the other things I have to do, and that there is always the opportunity to check in or review something I didn’t quite understand.

Maybe it’s time to have a look at how you typically ‘do’ development and consider adopting a more ‘spaced’ / coaching-based approach?

Now, back to that pesky D chord!!



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