Practice or Hit the Benches

People tend to think that they already know everything they need to know. Over my years as a general manager and sales manager in business, I’ve made an effort to train people only to have them say, “I already knew that.” In my consulting practice, when I do uncovery and try to come up with recommendations, everyone already seems to know what they need to do. However, when I go out and make sales calls with the salespeople, observe managers in action, and go to meetings, I see that the necessary action isn’t being taken.

One of my pet peeves is when we acquire knowledge without activating it or putting it to real use. This scenario happens way more often than you’d believe. Why do we spend all this money acquiring knowledge? Why do we read books, go to seminars, go to workshops, and hire consultants as part of a multi-billion dollar per year business in the United States? The reality is, most businesses never actually install the stuff that they learn. It’s like having software sitting right on your desk, but never actually taking the time to install it on your computer.

I’m a big sports fan and I love football, so I’ll use a football analogy. The NFL is a rare club—there are about 1,700 players in the club at any given time. These are the elite of the elite who earn an average salary of $2 Million. Some of them have been playing football since they were four years old. They were stars in elementary, high school, and college. These teams are filled with people on the top of their game, yet every single one of them has coaches. In fact, the average NFL team has 16 coaches (1 head coach and 15 assistant coaches). That’s one coach for every three players.

You see the pros play a one hour game every week (which goes for three hours because of commercials and breaks) for 16 weeks. What you don’t see are the daily meetings for 10 hours, weightlifting for 4 hours, practices for 10 hours, and video study for 5 hours. These people have already had well over a decade of success and yet they still prepare 30 hours a week for a one hour game (over a 3 hour period). That’s ten times the hours of preparation versus actual game hours.

Why does this ring a bell? I ask colleagues, business owners, and clients how many hours a week their team practices. The response is usually that they do in fact have regular meetings and practice. What does the practice actually look like?  They just talk about what’s going on in the business and how the competition is doing. That’s not practice—that’s just discussion. What happens with NFL practice? They actually run plays, practice offense and defense, handle the ball, do mock-ups, and do scenarios. They will use a scheme that represents the defensive or offensive posture of the team that they will play at next week’s game.

What if the quarterback on your favorite football team told their coach that they didn’t need to practice? Imagine them saying, “I’m already one of the best in the world and I’ve excelled since I was five years old. I can just freestyle when I’m out on the field.” I’ve actually had salespeople tell me just that. They thought that they didn’t need to participate in role play or scenario practice. If a quarterback would say that to his coach, he’d be benched in no time. If you don’t practice, you don’t play.

What the heck is wrong with us business people? How can we think that we’ll become the best-in-class at what we do if we don’t practice? I’ve had clients ask me why some of my programs or workshops didn’t work for them. They aren’t any better today than they were six months ago. It all goes back to what I said when we first started our workshop: I can’t do the practice for you. You have to do it yourself every day.

The most common excuse I hear is that they just didn’t get around to it. They might have thought it over, had some conversations, or sent a few emails, but they never took action. If you acquire knowledge and pay for these kinds of programs but you didn’t go out on the field to practice, I don’t know what to tell you. Unfortunately, these actions are rampant in today’s business. The thing that’s even more scary is that business owners and business managers think they’ve already done it—they think they installed the software.

The way that you can determine if software has been installed successfully is if it produces the intended output. You must see the results that you want, otherwise the software has not actually been installed. It’s still sitting right on your desk, ready to be put into action.

If you need help putting together or sticking to a practice regimen, send me an email. I’d love to hear from you.

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