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Mark McKenna 12/12/2012

Deliberate Practice to Develop Meaningful Skills on the Job

How does an employee who stocks shelves in a grocery store prepare to be a store manager of his own grocery store? Of a surety, he will need to possess the necessary skills to manage a store in order to qualify for this position. If he does not already possess these skills, here is a scenario by which he might accomplish this.

First, he will identify which skills he still needs to develop in order to successfully manage a store. Then, if he can figure out a method for developing those skills through the job tasks that he is already performing, he will make himself increasingly more qualified by doing what he is already doing each day. The key would be for him to understand that he will significantly develop skills in this way only if he deliberately practices those skills. For example, simply moving the product from boxes to the shelves may not prepare him very well to manage his own store, but what if he practices memorizing what product goes in each aisle? And what if he starts measuring which product runs out the fastest? He can also pay attention to truck deliveries and learn about how orders are placed. He can do timings to determine how long it takes to get product from delivery to the shelf or he can figure out profit margins on certain products. By making slight modifications to his job tasks he can develop the skills needed to budget, inventory, coordinate departments, and merchandise the way a store manager does.

Regardless of whether a grocery stocker wants to become a store manager or not, there are many skills that he can develop on the job that will make him a more capable

grocery stocker. Certainly by studying what product goes in what aisle he can become more effective in stocking shelves and assisting customers. Measuring and increasing his speed and efficiency in completing tasks will increase his productivity and save the company money. If he takes the opportunity to deliberately practice a skill that he cares about, he will become more motivated to do his job. His level of job satisfaction will probably increase. He will achieve valuable results that, if measured and captured, he can share with his manager to get a potential pay increase or a promotion or to qualify for a different position in another company.

There is a key idea here in that employees can engage in self-development activities that are meaningful to the individual and that also produce valuable results for the organization. This can be done through deliberate practice.

The Problem
Associates at Deseret Industries participate in a training program intended to help them become self-reliant employees and gain new employment in their chosen field. Each associate creates a plan and participates in goal-setting each week leading up to the time that they receive a new job. They also participate in various job-related trainings, including: job search techniques, customer service, vocational training, supervisory skills, and English language development. In the midst of this training experience they are also working in a retail or production environment. This work environment can be an incredibly valuable setting in which associates can develop the skills they will need in their future employment, yet the vast majority of associates are not conscientiously developing skills through their job tasks. These on-the-job learning experiences are usually lost in the shuffle of day-to-day operations.

There are 2 main parts to the problem:

1. Associates are unable to identify the transferrable skills they have gained at Deseret Industries (that better qualify them for their future employment). 2. Associates do not deliberately practice developing skills that will transfer to their future employment.

Needs Assessment: Quantitative Evidence: Departments average below 80% productivity on a consistent basis as calculated weekly by management. The work at Deseret Industries gets done, but it gets done with too many people in too many hours (labor cost is above budgeted amount).

Qualitative Evidence (from managers, other job coach trainers, and personal observation): Managers estimate that a very low percentage of associates (below 10%) are able to describe their skills in a persuasive way. Every associate takes a career workshop in which they learn about how to describe their skills to a prospective employer, but even directly after the workshop the great majority of associates cannot explain how their skills lead to results. Most associates cannot identify specific examples of how they have demonstrated valuable skills on the job. They lack the ability to connect the jobs they perform at Deseret Industries with the jobs they want.

All of this results in a workforce that is not sufficiently engaged, motivated, or productive.

Purpose and Objectives

The purpose of my creative project is to introduce a process by which employees can develop pertinent skills and achieve meaningful results directly from the work tasks they perform every single day in a way that will better qualify them for the jobs they are preparing to get. Drawing from Ericssons concept of deliberate practice, this method of on-the-job training will empower employees to deliberately practice a specific skill over the course of one month. Through this practice they will not only significantly increase their proficiency of the skill in a concentrated way but they will also purposefully achieve organizational results. They will eliminate their bad practice and experience meaningful personal development. This combination of skill development and results will increase the employees employability in a powerful way.

This process will apply the framework described in Daniel Pinks book, Drive: Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose. Employees will autonomously select the skill they want to develop and the method they will use to develop it. They will exercise mastery as they intensely practice this skill during a four-week period and report on their results to the rest of the team weekly. Each employee is engaged in the purpose of becoming selfreliant in order to be successful in his or her future employment.

The anticipated results from this project are: 1. A power statements developed by each participant that describes meaningful skills and powerful results achieved through deliberate practice. 2. A report summarizing the projects usefulness and scope (this document). 3. A presentation that showcases findings and applications.

In addition to these results, I also anticipate the following: 1. Sales in our departments will increase (or at least maintain) 2. Productivity will increase

3. Employee fulfillment and engagement will increase

Review of Literature
There are a few key research points that guided the design of my project. Deliberate practice is a concept that K. Anders Ericsson described as the method by which novice practitioners develop into expert practitioners (Ericsson, 1993). This practice involves concentrated effort with immediate feedback. While my project does not concern itself with the development of expert performance, it centers on the idea that the quality of our practice has a far more significant impact on increases in performance than the quantity of our practice or the natural talent that we bring to the table. Employees participating in my project will develop a personal plan to practice a skill in a deliberate and focused way in order to increase the quality of their practice and maximize their performance gains.

Daniel Pink describes a model for increasing employee motivation and performance (Pink, 2009). He includes three important components that drive motivation: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Autonomy implies giving employees the ability to govern their own work in key areas that will enable them to make choices in the areas that matter to them. Mastery consists in making it possible for employees to become progressively competent and skilled at what they are doing. Purpose is the idea of providing employees with the sense that what they are doing is bigger than their individual contribution and is the fulfillment of a higher ideal. Pink suggests that if an organization follows this model for motivation their employees will experience increased engagement and performance. I included this model in the design of my project.

Teresa Amabile (2011) studied factors influencing employee success and found that by supporting progress in meaningful work, managers improve employees inner work lives

and the organizations performance (p. 12). This is known as the progress principle. I have incorporated an element of recognizing and reporting progress as a key part of my project.

Drawing on the findings of this research, my project serves as a systematic application of these findings to discover their effectiveness in the context of my workplace.

Procedures and Methodology

Preparation Work and Present to Team (PURPOSE) I created a worksheet to introduce the project to the employees and presented the project to the employees (see Appendix 1). Week 1 (AUTONOMY) I assisted each employee in completing a worksheet that: identifies the skill they want to practice identifies the specific job tasks that will give them the opportunity to practice the skill identifies a method for measuring progress identifies the anticipated organizational results that will stem from their deliberate practice Once all employees completed the worksheet I directed a meeting in which each employee shared his/her plan with the team (see Appendix 2). Weeks 2-5 (MASTERY) Employees developed skill through job tasks (see Appendix 3). I provided frequent follow-up and support throughout each week.

Employees reported weekly to team (reflection & articulation) and showed progress (progress principle). I facilitated the reporting process.

Week 6 (Summary) Each employee summarized his or her development experience. Each employee created a power statement (Skill Example Result). I served as a coach through this process. Create a presentation I will create a presentation to showcase my ideas and findings, which I will present during a USU ITLS graduate student forum on April 4, 2013.

Reporting/Implementation Process
I maintained contact with my advisor, Yanghee Kim, every two weeks to formatively evaluate the project and make adjustments as needed. The timeline for the project followed the anticipated schedule.

Given the voluntary participation of my team in this project, not all employees committed to participate. Out of thirteen potential participants, nine completed a preliminary development plan with the intention of participating fully in the project but due to a variety of factors only five employees completed the entire four-week experience.

Four participants summarized their weekly progress, outlining milestones and progress through each of the four weeks.

Name Week 1 Virginia Staging was disorganized. Organized items in a neater fashion. Quality of some items that went out were causing the staging to be overflowed.

Camron dirt on wall under sanitizer bottom of toilets urinals stall door break room machines Joshua Decided what areas to track and began gathering speeds and numbers.

Weekly Progress Report Week 2 Week 3 Staging was still Staging was disorganized but organized. had gotten better. Quality of items Low quality of going out to sales items were still floor looked better. going out to the Communication sales floor but had with Code 2s was gotten better. better. Need work on Code 2s communicating what they needed. prog 1 + Prog 1 & 2 + behind toilet walls feminine hygiene under soap dispensers above stalls

Week 4 Staging looked awesome. Quality of items helped with the sales. Communication with team and organization was good.

Prog 1, 2, & 3 + under toilets sides of urinals/by urinals/under urinals above door bottom of stalls Accomplished goal. Cleanliness turned out to be a large factor in increasing speed consistantly. 2 people did 13 carts twice this week and moved through more chrome carts. Next goal: 1 person 10 carts 8 hours.

Wide range between cart times. Average is at 40 min. per cart but actual cart times varied between 15 min. and 75 min. Also tried to track items processed per min. but it proves to be troublesome with so many people coming in and out.

Waves in speeds. Morning avg was 60 min Evenings were 28 min. Reasons were probably panic and work faster to catch up in afternoon. Looking for consistency. Planned steps to make it possible for 2 people to complete 10 carts in 8 hrs.

Decided to stop tracking items processed and to focus on carts.


found that a lot of carts were in need of regular maintenance figure which ones needed to be on regular maintenance schedule + which ones needed to be fixed as needed

created scheduled times of the year that the carts could + should be greased for wheel replaced. Cost of maintaining vs cost of replacing

Timer with high goal of 30 min. and a minimum of 45 min Maitain clean work environment. Process large items ASAP goal of 2.5 before each break implemented a time how long it should take to replace or grease the carts. Tweak schedule

cont. to work on the carts

After four weeks of deliberate practice and meeting to report on progress, each employee developed a power statement as a way of capturing their accomplishment and expressing it in a way that would be persuasive to current and future employers.

Power Statements
Chad I am proficient at monitoring my time management. For an example, when I worked at Deseret Industries I created a standard of time it takes to complete tasks. As a result I, along with my team, was able to create more specific direction and instruction for the custodial/maintenance team.

Camron I am alert. For example, I inspected my work at Deseret Industries over a period of time.

After each cleaning I found places that were frequently overlooked and took care of them. As a result, complaints were reduced and the restrooms were cleaner. Josh I am efficient. For example, at Deseret Industries I was assigned to work in an area that previously took 4 people 12 hours to complete. A co-worker and I created goals and steps to make it more efficient and the result was that the 2 of us were able to complete the same task in 8 hours, effectively increasing productivity and efficiency. Jacob I am a problem solver. As an example, I saw that the carts were getting hard to move around and that they were tearing up the floor. I then made a schedule and implemented it to fix and grease the carts. As a result I saved the company over a thousand dollars a year on wheels and flooring and it made life easier on the workers. Virginia <power statement on qualitynot yet complete>

As a result of this project, these five employees significantly increased not only their own productivity, but also the productivity of other team members. Josh reduced the manpower needed to complete his processing goal by 100%. He and a coworker reduced the time needed to complete the goal by 50%. These are significant gains in employee productivity, even though his coworker opted out of participation and did not consciously change any aspect of his work.

Chads time management goal affected our entire maintenance and custodial team (4 associates) by establishing time standards for the completion of tasks that enabled them to finish major tasks in a consistent time and free up their schedule to complete additional tasks that they were previously unable to complete. One of the reasons he set this goal is because he was having difficulty managing time. He would frequently miss break times because he lost track of time and he struggled monitoring the pace of tasks. Through this project he has become possibly the most time-conscientious

employee in the store. He now calls break time for the entire team and is very consistent in ensuring that the team leaves and returns from lunch and break periods on time.

Camron solved a major problem related to the way we cleaned our restrooms. Prior to this project we were receiving frequent complaints regarding the cleanliness of the restrooms. Through developing alertness Camron increase the quality of our hourly restroom checks significantly and the complaints disappeared.

As Jacob began exploring cart maintenance he brought up issues to our store manager that had never previously surfaced. Our store manager inquired about some of these issues with our contracted supplier and discovered how to properly maintain our donation carts. The supplier commented that these issues were not being addressed at any store, so the changes we implemented in maintaining our carts will likely be implemented at other stores as well.

The sales in our departments maintained increases of more than twenty percent over the sales in the previous year. This was evidence that the deliberate practice of skills contributed to, and did not distract from, organizational profitability.

On a final note, the participants of this project expressed an increased engagement at work. They reported excitement at the progress they made and an increased appreciation for their job tasks that others find menial. From a managerial perspective, they became more proactive, invested, and energetic.


These findings demonstrate that empowering employees to develop their skills in meaningful ways on the job can have a profound impact on the quality and efficiency of their work. Some principles can be drawn from this project that employees and managers may benefit from using.

As an employee: You will likely produce high quality work if the work is meaningful to you. The level of intrinsic motivation you have for performing a task is a function of the extent to which the task is meaningful to you. A task will likely be more meaningful to you if you get to choose the task (because you want to do it), you have a desire to master the task (because you chose it), and because the task aligns with a higher purpose (which is why you chose it). Deliberately practicing a skill is an effective way of achieving rapid learning gains in the performance of the skill. Reflecting on your learning and finding a purposeful way of articulating your learning causes you to achieve deeper learning that is more likely to influence your behavior in a positive way. Recognizing and reporting progress can help you maintain the level of intrinsic motivation you have in regards to the tasks you perform.

As a manager: You may achieve higher quality and efficiency from your employees by focusing on the development of the employee rather than on results. If you can identify opportunities to allow your employees to choose their areas of development the employees will likely be motivated and anxious to improve performance.

You will lead effective change in your employees by facilitating reflection and articulation of the learning that the employees are experiencing through their work.

Accountability becomes increasingly more powerful as employees proactively report on the progress they are making in areas of development that are meaningful to them.

Future Direction
This project reinforces Daniel Pinks argument that intrinsic motivation leads to high levels of achievement. However, the context for this project runs counter to one of the elements of Pinks argument: that intrinsic motivation will improve performance to a greater degree than extrinsic motivators as the complexity of the task increases, and that extrinsic motivators will improve performance to a greater degree than intrinsic motivation as the simplicity of the task increases. The tasks performed by the participants typically require very little knowledge work. The participants were able to make their job tasks more cognitively sophisticated by developing skills inferentially through their job tasks. A next step in this project would be to implement this systematized development process for employees whose work is truly routine and menial. This would provide insight into what types of people and what types of circumstances cause menial work to also be meaningful.

Appendix 1

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Appendix 2

Appendix 3: Tracking Sheets


September 28- October 31

Week: 1 2 3 4

Skill: increase alertness by inspecting my work after completion and improving next time

Date/Time Area observed and Observations

Electronics Processing Results

Date # start time Grey Shelf Cart end time time/cart # items on cart # Silver Chrome Cart start time end time Who?

Amabile, T.M., Kramer, S.J. (2011, May). The power of small wins. Harvard Business Review, 80(12), 20-21. Retrieved August 20, 2012, from Business Source Premier/EBSCO database. Ericsson, K.A., Krampe, R.T. (1993). The role of deliberate practice in the acquisition of expert performance. Psychological Review, 100(3), 363-407. Retrieved September 1, 2012, from Academic Search Premier database. Pink, D. H. (2009). Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us. New York, NY: Riverhead Books.