Watching my son’s Little League team, I was reminded once again
about the deep difference between knowing what to do and doing it when
the time comes. I watch them go through drills at practice, perfectly
implementing such concepts as the double play and acting as backup
to other players. Then, in their games we see them faced with the reality
of high fly balls and hot grounders and all their best practices fall
apart. The outfielders overthrow the base, catches are missed and runners
circle the bases until the ball finally gets returned to the pitcher.
I am sure that this can resemble your business on a bad day, too. No
matter how much we practice, crises can cause us to forget all that
practice and to panic instead.
Usually, when we discuss someone being on “auto-pilot” we
look at it as a bad thing. We use the term to describe someone who
is blindly going through the motions, even if it means driving off
of a cliff. In some ways, though, especially when it comes to the fundamentals
of your business, there are certain behaviors you want on auto-pilot.
You refine and reinforce these behaviors, just like batting and fielding
until they become second nature. You want to be able to implement these
behaviors without conscious thought, as automatic as breathing. This
is where good baseball players become great and the same can be said
for your co-workers.
So, how to make your best practices automatic? You do it much in the
same way you get better at anything – you practice – over
and over. If you want to get better at pitching, you pitch – a
lot. If you want to get better at your business pitch – you pitch
it out loud – a lot. You cement these ideas and turn them into
actions by doing them over and over. Reading about pitching can give
you some great ideas, but pitching itself will quickly show which of
those ideas works best for you. Then you take those ideas and repeat
them again and again.
How do you know when you have succeeded in making a behavior automatic?
You will notice the behavior only in retrospect. There will be a time
when you suddenly stop and notice that you did exactly what needed
to be done without thinking about it at all, You scoop up the ball
and make the perfect throw to first base automatically. Only afterwards
will you say to yourself, ”Hey, that was a pretty good play.”
You probably have times in your work day when you experience this same
feeling. You provide just the answer your customer needed or put together
a quote that perfectly meets their budget or needs. Take a few moments
to review this when it happens. Think about what previous “practice” allowed
you to react quickly and automatically? How can you apply this same
practice to other aspects of your work? You can learn from yourself
and your own actions as much as you can learn from a great teacher.
It only requires that you notice your behaviors and exploit them.
Furthermore, notice when those around you are on auto-pilot. Are
they answering from a place of practice and deep understanding
jobs or are they simply telling you something to get you out of their
cubicle? Closely observe both of these behaviors and compare them
to your own. It should be clear by now, which behaviors you want
Ask them how they developed their deep knowledge. How did they practice?
How did they develop the ability to give the right answer automatically?
What can you add to your own repertoire?
I know that you can find your own special “sweet spot” where
your auto-pilot serves you, and everyone around you well. If you notice
yourself sliding into the auto-pilot that leads to rote answers to
important questions, you need to turn it off and find your way back
onto the right path. Your goal is always to react, when necessary,
but still understand the need for practice and careful consideration
when you are confronted with a new situation. Auto-pilot can only take
you so far, but it can be a building block to bettering your career.
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