I’d like to talk here about your most advanced clients. The ones who have taken your courses, worked with you one-on-one, and are now ready to take it up a notch – or 2 or 3. They’re ready to achieve an exceptional level of achievement in your field.
Are you ready for them?
Oh dear, you hope so, don’t you? Well, don’t worry, Anders Ericsson is the guy who can help to you answer, “Yes” to that question. He’s amazing.
If you’ve read about the 10,000 hour rule – or anything else about superior performance – it’s likely Ericsson’s research they were talking about. If you don’t know what I’m referring to, no biggie. But you might want to get a hold of his latest book, Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise if this topic gets your blood flowing.
In it, he lays out a method for someone like you – an expert in your field – to support others in their journey towards mastery. It’s a journey he calls “Deliberate Practice.”
If this sounds like something that would help you clients and something that you should be doing in your business, read on.
Deliberate Practice? What is it?
Deliberate practice is a technique for mastering skills and realizing your potential.
Deliberate practice makes a difference, but few people do it. It’s hard. It’s uncomfortable. And achieving excellence is not always called for. A subset of your clients, however, will want to achieve mastery and will want you to coach them through it.
The key thing is that it’s not about working hard. It’s about working smart. Ericsson says that you’re better off practicing less time and doing it very well than spend a lot of time on shoddy, careless practice.
So next let’s delve into how you might design a Deliberate Practice Program for your clients.
Designing a Deliberate Practice Program
In a nutshell, creating a program for you clients to follow entails dissecting the skills you’re teaching into small chunks, building in ways for your clients to practice those chunks, and providing them feedback along the way.
Here’s how to break that down:
1. Identify what underlies superior performance
What makes you (and others) an expert in your field? Hopefully, you’ve already done some of this work in creating your e-course but this time you’re going to go even deeper. Remember, we’re talking superior performance and in your e-course you may have been focused on adequate performance.
2. Break these down into well-defined, specific goals
Next, you need to articulate well-defined, specific goals for deliberate practice.
“Give a great sales presentation that closes the deal” is not a well-defined or specific goal. But “Telling stories that capture attention” is pretty close. You might even break down that chunk into an even smaller goal. You’re going to have to make the call given the complexity of the topic and the degree to which your client is advancing.
3. Create opportunities for practice
Once you have that well-defined, specific goal, you’ll need a way for your client to practice that goal in such a way that you can watch it/hear it/read it.
In some cases, practice might take place in an artificial environment (such as a Toastmasters-like set-up) and in others, it might be in an actual environment with real stakes (a presentation at a local conference, for example). It might entail your client writing up something and submitting it to you or showing you an iteration of a work product.
4. Provide feedback
The reason you will need to observe the client and/or their work product is really the crux of deliberate practice. Yep, Step #4. Don’t skip it.
Giving pointed, useful feedback to help the person course correct is where the rubber meets the road.
In some cases the feedback is clear – “You nailed that serve,” “You got the sale,” “Your survey results were excellent.” But that kind of broad stroke, general feedback is not what you’re after.
What you need to be able to provide is specific, targeted feedback that helps your student make tangible improvements.
Then, design more practice to improve their weakness. Rinse and repeat.
5. And more…
Now you know the basics. But there are other roles that you can take on – helping your client develop useful mental representations and chunking out the topic into useful components are two.
If you want to delve more deeply into these and other nuances, do check out Ericsson’s book or get in touch with me.
Your Encouragement is Key
Ira Glass has a great little talk about moving beyond “good enough”. He focuses on creative work but it’s applicable to all of us who want to break past mediocre performance.
“Fight your way through it,” implores Ira Glass.
Deliberate practice is hard. It’s about moving out of your comfort zone. Over and over. And getting tough feedback, screwing up, getting corrected, trying again, thinking of different ways to try it again until you get it right. It’s about hitting plateaus, deciding “it’s good enough” and then kicking yourself for it.
You, as teacher/consultant/coach, may be the only thing in the way of your client blowing off this whole crazy thing and going back to the way it was.
Go the Extra Mile
Here are some ways for you to help your clients stick to the program.
1) Welcome errors
Identifying and correcting errors is a core component of deliberate practice. If your client is not making errors, they’re not stretching themselves enough – even if (especially?) they’re “practicing” on real life stuff.
2) Encourage them to stay focused
Deliberate practice needs deep, focused time. Have your client block off their calendars and make sure that this time is protected. Encourage them to put up a “do not disturb” sign on their door or to work after the kids are in bed (or maybe just get to a coffee shop!).
3) Schedule it consistently
Research shows when we time block something on a consistent, predictable basis we are more likely to do it. So work with your client to find an on-going time they can set aside for deliberate practice. Blocking every Tuesday and Friday from 2:00 – 3:30 is way better than saying that you expect that they work on this “twice a week.”
“Top performers in every field — athletes, musicians, CEOs, artists — they are all more consistent than their peers,” writes James Clear in Entrepreneur. “They show up and deliver day after day while everyone else gets bogged down with the urgencies of daily life and fights a constant battle between procrastination and motivation.”
4) Hold them accountable
Go crazy as their accountability coach. Do whatever else you can think of to keep your expectations in play and front-and-center for your client. Don’t let them slip away!
There you have it!
What a great way to build a deep, long-term relationship with a client and to build a tribe of masters in the long run. Hey, I see a certificate program in your future!
Here’s to all of us doing more significant work and doing it exceptionally!
And if you’d like to be coached through your own deliberate practice regime as an e-course designer, get in touch!