6 steps to getting better at everything
Wednesday, June 03, 2020
You can become better at almost anything if you follow this simple plan.
In January, you probably made several New Year’s resolutions. According to Statistical Brain, people who explicitly make resolutions are 10 times more likely to attain their goals than people who don't explicitly make resolutions.
So, how are you doing?
If you’re one of the 62% of Americans who made one or more New Year’s resolutions, by Feb. 1 at least half your resolutions had fallen by the wayside. About a quarter of people who make New Year’s resolutions never succeed in achieving them.
It almost certainly wasn’t that you lacked the interest in making the change. It’s just that something (or someone) hijacked your resolve — and your plan to get from here to there became too burdensome. Or maybe you didn’t have an effective plan. Whatever the reason, something interfered with your resolution to get better.
Lessons from a successful coaching practice. I’ve been an executive coach for almost two decades with greater than a 97% rehire rate (meaning clients who hire me to work with someone on staff hire me for additional people following the results my coaching produced). I want to share some of the tactics and strategies that continue to work across different industries, different cultures, and different kinds of need areas.
1. Start by assessing where you are now.
Here are five tools and approaches I use most often to gain an accurate current picture of where a coaching client is in their career.
Candidate self-assessment. The candidate has an idea of his or her specific needs — what he or she wants to accomplish by engaging a coach. I typically use both a self-assessment and behavioral interview questions. I want to learn about both his or her objectives, plus his or her capacity and motivation to grow.
Behavioral assessment. This tool saves hours of time at the start and enables me to fill in a lot of details to understand why someone behaves the way he or she does. We spend time together exploring the assessment results and then validate the behavioral profile during the time we work together.
Competence/knowledge assessment. This tool allows me to measure what someone knows and understands about the best practices in a particular area, such as management/leadership disciplines, sales, or communication skills. The results allow me to measure the gap between where they are now in contrast to a set of relevant best practices.
Supervisor/peer interviews. In addition to an individual’s observations about themselves, the people with whom they work most closely can shed some light on both the individual’s working environment and the personal and workplace behaviors they observe.
Observation. After 40 years of helping people develop to their potential, I’ve been able to know what to look for that can provide the clues to helping someone improve.
2. Next, determine what is most important to improve, add, or fix first.
Each of us has a different set of priorities dictated by our current work objectives and circumstances, our supervisors, the important people in our life, and our life situation.
I work with each client to prioritize the need areas in order to determine the top three to five areas that if improved, would lead to the greatest growth and success. These areas don’t remain static, so we periodically reassess and reprioritize. We use a proprietary tool to do this, and my clients can use it to reprioritize anytime they want.
3. Next, identify the best practices in a specific area and compare to your current knowledge. Then measure the gap.
There are a number of reliable sources that can be used to set forth the best practices in any given area, from best-practices authors, trainers, practitioners, and experts. Consult those whose results are proven in actual field use. Avoid the trendy stuff and the “three-step cures for whatever ails you” solutions.
Look for resources which have a strong record of success in your business area. Choose the practical over the theoretical. Over the years I collected a best-practices inventory and kept it current as best practices evolve. This has helped my organization create nearly 200 training programs that are in use on four continents. (Shameless self-promotion: please visit our course catalog and see all of the topics we address — especially leadership, management, and sales!)
4. Build a four-quadrant plan.
Over the years I’ve found the most effective plans are often the straightforward and practical ones. A planning template is just that, a template that makes it easy to organize the actions you want to or need to take in order to move from where you are to where you want to be. I favor the more/less/stop/start format, though there are others. I ask my clients to create their first draft, and then we refine it together over time.
Purpose Statement: This is usually the first item on the plan that gets created. It is a statement of reasons why improving in this specific area is important to you.
More quadrant: List the actions/approaches that you need to do more of, selected from the set of best practices associated with your improvement area. This quadrant is often the one with the largest list of actions.
Less quadrant: List the actions/approaches that you need to do less of, the habits and approaches that need to be diminished as the More habits replace them.
Stop quadrant: List the actions/approaches that you need stop doing. These are easy to identify when you compare your own current practices with the set of best practices in the improvement area.
Start quadrant: List the actions/approaches that you need to start doing. Again, easy to identify when you compare your current practices to the improvement area’s best practices.
Resources: Identify the people and other resources that can help you. Include an accountability partner and/or coach and the best-practices sources.
5. Execute your plan.
Here are several best practices associated with the successful execution of your plan:
Daily review. If you’re a morning person, review your plan in the morning. If you’re an evening person, review it late in the day. Either way, be intentional about it and schedule this daily event on your calendar with a notification to remind you.
What to look for. It’s unlikely that you had an opportunity to take every action you listed on your plan on any one day.
Rather, there were opportunities to do more of, less of, stop doing, and start doing certain actions during the preceding workday. And there will be opportunities to do more of, less of, stop doing, and start doing certain actions during the day ahead. By reviewing the list every day you can choose which actions to take as part of your normal workflow.
Reminders. You may be someone who likes to post copies of your action plan on the mirror (and see it morning and night), or somewhere in your car, or at your desk. Multiple impressions of your plan serve both as reminders and a reinforcement to take the actions you listed. So, keep your plan visible where you’ll see it.
Habits. According to experts it takes 21 days to create new habits and between 45 and 60 days to replace ineffective habits with effective ones. So, your action plan should be in place for at least 60 days for it to help you make permanent changes to improve.
6. Review your plan with a coach or accountability partner.
While it is possible to get better at anything without a coach or accountability partner, most people lack the discipline and expert guidance to achieve the high levels of quality and quantity change that a coach or accountability partner will provide. Today, professional coaching is recognized as one of the very best investments organizations can make in their people, and people can make in themselves.
Coach or accountability partner? Accountability partners are people you trust to give you honest feedback, and who agree to come along side you to keep you on plan. Coaches typically bring objectivity, experience, education, practical training, and sometimes certification to your development. The best coaches and accountability partners have practical experience in the areas in your identified improvement areas.
Internal or external coach. Internal coaches are typically found in the largest organization while external coaches have their own practices or are part of an organization that offers coaching. Look for a coach with broad experience and record of success in the roles you are in or aspire to.
Chemistry, trust, and confidentiality. A coaching or accountability relationship will not work unless there is good chemistry between the two of you. And since you’ll be sharing personal and confidential matters make sure this person is someone with a history of trustworthiness and integrity. What do his or her clients say about this?
Frequency. Coaches/accountability partners and clients work out a mutually agreeable meeting schedule. I usually meet with new clients every other week for the first few months, and then move our sessions out to every three or four weeks as the situation dictates.
Look for a coach to have flexibility in working with your schedule. A coach should be accessible in-between scheduled sessions to take a call, meet, or respond to your email or text.
Meeting logistics. Technology has made it possible to meet face-to-face using a virtual meeting, so your coach can be from anywhere. I have coaching clients across 10 time zones and distance does not reduce the effectiveness of our meetings.
Challenge and stretch. A good coach or accountability partner will challenge you and stretch you. Just like any other type of improvement there will be a little pain … no pain, no gain! Assignments between sessions should be relevant to your job and situation. Good coaches ask tough questions. They are honest in telling you the naked truth, which sometimes you might not want to hear. But stick with it and you’ll emerge all the better.
Here are a few articles about coaching that you may find helpful:
- CEO World — Impact on Business: Why You Need an Executive Coach
- Society for Human Resource Management — Executive Coaches Ease Leadership Transitions
- European Business Review — Coaching to Close the Gender Gap
So, there you have it. Six steps that will help you get better at anything. Anything. All it takes is the right approach and a plan to move from here to there.
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