business news in context, analysis with attitude

Content Guy’s Note: Last year, MorningNewsBeat had the privilege of posting a guest column by the well-known consultant and motivational speaker Art Turock in which he wrote about his experience at USC’s fantasy camp for over-the-hill-but-still-willing football players, and spoke about some of the business lessons he learned there. Well, Art apparently is a glutton for both punishment and enlightenment – not necessarily in that order – because he attended the camp again this year and came back with some new ideas and revelations.

We’re thrilled that Art wanted to share his thoughts exclusively with the MorningNewsBeat community…and since we’re just at the beginning of the football season, this seemed like a good week to do it…

Last month, I embarked on my annual pilgrimage to play in the USC Trojan Flashback Football Camp, an opportunity to participate in a culture committed to pursuing great achievement, and to fortify my denial of my status as an aging Baby Boomer. Flashback Camp provides an authentic experience for players (average age 25-45), to live the daily routine of a Trojan football player, from practice field drills, classroom strategy sessions, and playing at the LA Memorial Coliseum.

Following my first Camp, I began delivering a speech/seminar on “What It Takes to Be Great: Self-Management, Coaching, and Culture-Shaping Practices for Producing Breakthrough Performance,” especially for supermarket managers and CPG sales professionals. Consequently, this year I arrived intent on picking the UCC coaches’ brains to understand their culture-shaping process.

"There is a way to have great discipline, and have great intensity and have people compete on a level that is hard to match and enjoy every minute of it,” says Pete Carroll, Head Football Coach. On the surface, this outlandish statement captures Carroll’s coaching philosophy. He embellishes this philosophy with unwavering principles like “always compete,” which to many businesspeople rings like an unhealthy, hyper-pressurized workplace, and “win forever,” which sounds wildly unrealistic. However, when a team wins 85 percent of its games over seven years, this philosophy commands attention from aspiring high achievers.

Managers who dismiss USC’s philosophy as impractical, also risk discounting a body of research on conditions that produce elite and expert performance in fields like surgery, sports, performing arts, writing, firefighting, and financial planning. Turns out that achieving greatness has no shortcuts, but requires rigorous practice and summoning a level of effort that “wanna -be” great performers consider unreasonable—precisely the type of philosophy espoused by Pete Carroll.

The elite performance research concludes that experts are made, not born. While superior talent may launch an initial spurt of unusual accomplishments, many genetically-gifted individuals eventually fall behind less naturally-endowed colleagues who constantly engage in “deliberate practice.” Deliberate practice departs from the way most business people treat practice - mere repetition of what we already do well or have fun doing. In contrast, deliberate practice focuses on mastering tasks beyond one’s current level of competence and comfort and with the relentless intent to improve the current skill set and expand skills.

In study-after-study, these elements of deliberate practice are validated:

• Commit to the long haul, without demanding shortcuts. Greatness takes time, approximately ten years or more in most fields.

• Approach each practice occasion with an explicit goal of making small performance improvement.

• Get plenty of unflinchingly thorough feedback from a coach/trainer. Imagine a deli clerk who gets nightly sales results following her PA announcements to publicize special buys, and then listens to a recording of the presentations while her manager offers feedback.

• Practice regularly not sporadically. Many professional skills can be practiced at work simply by holding the intention to continuously improve rather than going through the motions. Delivering sales presentations, negotiating a deal, sharing performance appraisals, order selecting in a warehouse with speed being measured, all can be practiced.

• Reinvent practice regimens in ways that seem to require unreasonable effort or invite risks of failure, when performance plateaus. Imagine a CPG company reinventing the customary Top-to-Top Meeting protocol, by replacing the 6-month progress monitoring review in favor of inquiring into vital issues for which neither party has solid solutions, and require deeper collaborative study and innovative thinking. Far riskier to break with precedent and maybe look inept. But great performers fear they won’t get better far more than they fear making mistakes.

Pete Carroll preaches, “Practice is everything,” and the team implements these five elements of deliberate practice. USC’s goal is create the ultimate high energy, spirited, and competitive practice of any sports team. A typical college football practice consumes 3 hours and ends with wind sprints to insure sufficient aerobic conditioning. USC practices are so well orchestrated and energetic that they compress 1hour 45 minutes to accomplish the teaching and conditioning objectives, with no closing wind sprints tacked on.

Feedback is ongoing from USC coaches. For instance, in speed and acceleration drills, players instantly get their times for sprinting 10 or 20 yards, so they make adjustments within a given workout. Accordingly, any practice session becomes an occasion to improve just noticeably better in speed, strength, flexibility, play execution, where the cumulative effect means attaining the level of readiness and requisite capabilities for gridiron success.

In studying game film, USC defensive coaches grade each player based on effort, production, technique, and fulfilling assignments. The defenses goal on any series is not to simply prevent an opponent’s first down, but to cause a fumble or interception. Individual players and the defensive unit are graded for desired results (takeaways) and undesired results (called “loafs” like failing to swarm toward the ball carrier, failure to administer a hard hit/tackle).

Extraordinary practice plays a significant role in winning recruiting battles. After witnessing a USC practice, a vital message is unambiguously communicated among blue chip prospects - for players who desire the best opportunity for maximizing their football potential, there is no better choice than USC.
Vital questions for you to answer with ruthless honesty:

• How does your organization create such a rewarding professional development experience, so talented job candidates with lofty aspirations will seek the privilege of receiving profound support for their ongoing growth?

• Which description sounds more like your organizational culture: a) Tolerate coasting so a 25-year veteran employee might be repeating their fifth year 20 times, OR b) Employ performance monitoring that requires continuously improving skills sets and expanding skill repertoires.

• When you initiate a team sales presentation, do your colleagues have specific goals to improve performance? When you exit, do you immediately exchange feedback and analyze your thought process underlying significant choices? Do you elicit feedback from retail buyers and category managers?

To receive a complimentary copy of the complete USC self-study white paper Art wrote for the USC Coaching staff that applies the elite performance research, with additional adaptations to business, call Art at 1-800-473-8997, or email him at:
KC's View:
It has been my experience that getting out of the office and immersing oneself in another discipline – and looking for metaphors that can help in the practice of one’s life and work – is rarely a waste of time. It’s one of the reasons I hit a local boxing gym at least three times a week…because the balance of power and speed and timing is critical not just to how one hits a heavy bag, but how one goes about pretty much everything else.

I learned the same kind of lessons when I learned to drive a race car…an experience that I chronicled here, at: