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Deliberate practice- A construction superintendent getting started.

January 15, 2024
Richard De Crespigny (pilot, QF32) quotes Anders Ericsson (2007) as saying deliberate practise is ‘specific and sustained efforts to do something you can’t do well, or even at all’. De Crespigny then goes onto describe this from a commercial pilot’s perspective where there’s quite a bit at stake!

What might it look like in our world of everyday work and how might we start something we’ll tend to avoid because it is specific and sustained? Steve Massa, a superintendent with Story Construction, recently illustrated this perfectly.

Deliberate practice- A construction superintendent getting started. -

Steve has been in construction since 1992 starting as a labourer and working his way into leadership roles. He was a participant in Job Relations training at Story (Iowa) that I (Oscar) led in November ‘23. After the training, in the follow up mentoring, the participants are given 3 choices in terms of ‘points of practise’. Steve chose to hone in on the Job Relations foundation of ‘Give credit when due’.

When I asked why that one, this was Steve’s (paraphrased) response.

‘I’ve been doing this work for a very long time and have developed very high standards and expectations of myself.’ (This view is supported by his fellow leaders.) Steve went on … ‘As a leader, unless people working for me deliver that same level of performance, I say nothing, or worse, I may criticise. Even if they did better today than yesterday, I tend to say nothing. I’m nearly 50 now. In the next 15 years I want to pass on what I have to others in this line of work. Giving credit when due, encouragement in other words, needs to start now.’

I said “Steve, you’ve been this way for a very long time. This change, while easy to see and say, isn’t going to come naturally. It will require deliberate practise. But even before that, you’re going to need a trigger to remind you to look for opportunities to deliberately practise giving credit right when due. When we meet tomorrow, can you let me know please what that trigger might be?” Steve agreed.

Next day I asked Steve if he’d come up with anything (knowing damn well he would have as that’s Steve). “Yes, it’s a personal thing, I have it in my pocket. I can feel it all the time, it’s keeping give credit when due at the forefront of my mind and it’s given me opportunity to practise already.”

I didn’t know for a minute or two whether to ask the obvious question, but curiosity got the better of me. When I asked what was in his pocket, he pulled a rusted part of a 5/8” J bolt out of his pocket and put in on the table.

Deliberate practice- A construction superintendent getting started. -
Steve had the smaller piece in his pocket.

“It’s part of a bolt, but not any old bolt. 27 years ago on a job site I was 35 feet off the ground on a 32 foot aluminium scaffold plank supported by brackets bolted to the wall. After doing that bit of the work, we dismantled the scaffold. When I pulled the J bolt out of the wall that was holding one of the brackets it had sheared almost completely. There was about 1/8” sliver keeping me up. Had it sheared fully, I’d have fallen 35 feet and probably wouldn’t be sitting here today. I kept the bolt but hadn’t looked at it for years. It was in my back shed. I see it representing all I’ve learnt in the 27 years since and I want to pass that onto others. It’s big, I can feel it, it has significance for me, it is reminding me to practise giving credit when due.”

I thought this was brilliant. Here’s a very proud guy who’s recognised an opportunity to give to others through bettering himself. He’s found a trigger to change a long established ‘bad’ habit that he now sees as not fitting his next 15 years. The trigger is the beginning of specific and sustained effort to do something he hadn’t been doing well, or even at all.

In further discussions Steve said his practise feels uncomfortable and will take time. Yes – specific and sustained effort with a meaningful trigger to help remind him not to miss opportunity. Once give credit when due is established in Steve’s ‘leadership ways’, maybe the bolt will go back in his shed. 

(To learn more about ‘deliberate practise’, attend KataCon10 / TWI Summit in Indiana in April this year.)