Many organizations, programs, and teams hire consultants or trainers at the beginning of each semester with the hope of implementing systematic change. I myself used this same approach at the beginning of every semester, assigning leadership or inspirational articles, conducting team builders, and engaging in strategic planning as a way to further team and program development.
What generally happens is this approach fails. Miserably. Why does this happen time and time again?
Because change, real change, can’t happen instantly. Once trainers and consultants move on to other campuses, once those articles and books begin collecting dust, old patterns and ways of doing things start to take over. The same old deadlines and pressures begin to rear their ugly heads, and any hope of real and lasting change flies directly out the proverbial window.
So, what can be done? What should be done to move forward to make change stick and shifts to occur?
Practice, practice, practice.
Ok, I know what you’re thinking. “Practice what exactly?”
Think of it this way: athletes don’t show up for a game and hope they win; they have to practice first. Before each season, the coach makes a game plan, but the work doesn’t end there. That plan is practiced pretty much every single day for hours. And even after the first or second or third games, that plan is still practiced. Because you can’t hope to win consistently by winging it – you have GOT to prepare and practice first.
Can you imagine what professional athletes and teams would look like if they took the approach that we have adopted in higher education?
Lasting change takes practice. To get better at our roles takes practice. To serve our students at a high level takes practice.
I recently adopted a practice model using what I call the “fishbowl” approach. I’ll share a quick example.
I had every staff member that does outreach share a presentation in front of the rest of the group. We evaluated each story, delivery, the PowerPoint slides and other materials. What we learned as a staff is that the members are really great presenters but needed to practice certain skills more than others.
For example, one staff member benefitted from attending storytelling training. These sessions allowed her to practice crafting stories that would make a lasting impact on her audience.
I have tried the traditional model of training just once or twice a year, but what I have learned is that my staff deserves more because the student deserve the best from them. If I’m not bringing out their best through intentional practice embedded throughout the year, how can they improve and be at the top of their game.? Practice allows for robust training that lasts, engaged and invested staff, stronger programs, and realized change.