I perform in a musical group. We practice a piece of music approximately six times over three weeks before a performance, and usually by the fourth time through it, it is almost entirely error-free. By the last practice, just an hour before the concert, we have it nailed. Our confidence is high, we know our parts, and we are ready for the stage.
Then it happens: as the focus of the audience turns to the group, and the song begins, subtle errors emerge. Practiced parts become stiff and foreign, musicians become hesitant, a little fear creeps in, and what once appeared perfect falls slightly flat. The audience sometimes knows that it isn’t quite right, but the musicians are acutely aware of what happened.
This doesn’t happen every time, but it has always made me think about why it occurs and what the importance of practice might be for our careers as a whole. The stage fright that a performer feels is very similar to what a new employee might face when dealing with pressure at work.
The Importance of Practice at Work
Why does practice improve performance? We’ve all heard the term “practice makes perfect,” but the truth is that repetition helps you learn, absorb, develop, and eventually master even the smallest of skills. A new employee needs to be able to practice to learn.
When you throw workplace pressure into the mix, however, even simple tasks become more difficult. The pressure at work causes long-term stress, which erodes your employees’ mental health and leads to more mistakes in the long run. When you crank up the intensity at work, new hires are so afraid of making mistakes that they never really have a chance to practice.
The ability to work under pressure at work develops through continuous repetition, but your employees will never achieve mastery if they aren’t first allowed to make mistakes. Here are some thoughts about how you can enforce the importance of practice at your company:
- Rethink your tendency to hire quickly and jump into immersion training. The “sink or swim” mentality probably won’t work too well if you expect high performance and ultimately perfection right from the start.
- Repetition and practice are incredibly important if you want consistent performance. Think about surgeons, pilots, and soldiers who undergo hours upon hours of training before ever getting behind the wheel in their career. Are your people getting enough practice time comparatively?
- Honest and fearless debriefing after an event or meeting can fix future problems and instill confidence even when emotions run high. Competence breeds confidence.
- Tone down the pressure, especially for new hires. Employees perform better when they’re not always stressed. Let them know that a few mistakes aren’t life-or-death and that it’s okay to ask questions. This will help them develop excellent skills for when perfection matters.
- Your leadership strategy might convey more pressure than you’re intending. Be sure you’re clear on the importance of practice at work. Hire a business coach to help you develop better habits.
- Rising pressure at work builds anxiety in your people. Manage their safety valves. How closely do you observe your employees’ mental health? Regular, honest check-ins can help you prevent burnout before it becomes a problem.
- Be prepared to spend some extra time with your new direct report before and after their first presentation. Let them know you’re there to help them succeed, not trip them up. Your invested time could substantially affect their future.
Ultimately, a flawless musical performance can only be achieved through many rounds of failed practice runs. The importance of practice at work cannot be overstated. Take the pressure off of your employees while they’re training so they can practice without fear. This is the only way to achieve mastery without burnout.
Need help overhauling your training process? Just fill out my contact form to schedule a one-hour complimentary virtual coaching session with me to talk about the importance of practice and pressure at work.