Talent Development – Making Practice, Precision, and Persistence Count

I was setting up prior to delivering a training course for graduate engineers in an oil company. In he came, he was very early, “don’t mind me” he said, “I came early to get a little peace and quiet”. He produced a pack of cards and proceeded to practice something that looked to me like a magic trick. With great patience he would get to a certain point and then start all over again. I watched him practice, I admired his persistence. I asked him what he was trying to achieve. “Greater precision and absolute perfection” was the answer.

Sometime later I was reminded of this story by the head of HR who has asked me to design a competency framework for level 1-3 maintenance and operations engineers.
Talent DevelopmentWe were looking at the competency requirements for the areas of taking responsibility for problem solving and decision making. He explained that typically, role holders will solve routine task specific problems through the application of standard operating instructions and precedents. That was the scope of their problem solving and decision making and in an industry that is heavily regulated he needed compliance, not creativity. He went on to explain that the engineers were responsible for completing work according to allocated time frames and to high craft standards, and like the practicing magician Practice, Precision, and Persistence were essential to ensure productivity and protection.

Moving into a completely different contract in another sector I was facilitating a talent management session with a group of managers who had made mistakes of Enron magnitude by disproportionately rewarding the “top” performers which had impacted trust and cooperation. While exploring the question posed by a director “What do we do with unskilled workers who do repetitive jobs?” I was reminded of how we may fail to value how those in repetitive roles can be extremely efficient and highly productive, simply because of the opportunities that those roles present for practice. It is not only the quantity of practice that is important it is the quality and this is where feedback and encouragement from a manager can impact performance.

  • Are those who are skilled at repetitive jobs getting the attention they deserve?


Firing the Myelin – Making Practice, Precision, and Persistence Count

What practice is actually doTalent Developmenting is helping the brain optimize a set of coordinated activities, through a process called myelination.

Myelin, is responsible for most of our learning and skill development, it. is a cellular insulation that wraps around neural circuits and that grows in response to certain signals. The more you do something, the better you get at it.

The more you use and practice a certain skill, the more those specific nerval pathways get insulated with Myelin.


The Training Incubator

As you enjoy the summer of sport, you will see examples of performance that looks effortless, in tennis, cycling, formula one, TT racing, and football. Watch those football players as they turn, weave, flick manoeuvre. In the book The Talent Code, Daniel Coyle describes how Brazil became obsessed with the game of Futsal. A game resembling football but played with blinding speed and intricate rhythm in a confined space basketball-court-size patches of concrete, wooden floor, and dirt patches, with a ball half the size and twice as heavy as a regular football.

Talent DevelopmentFutsal players touch the ball six times more often per minute; the heavier ball requires precise handling and little room for manoeuvre. The Futsal court becomes an incubator allowing players to touch the ball 600% more and providing constant opportunity for practice and correction, a targeted effort that increases learning velocity and continuously motivates with each visible improvement. Clearly this technique has now been perfected elsewhere!

The psychologist Ericsson disproved the theory that human short term memory is limited to 7 plus or minus 2 capacity during his research when he proved that structures of memory could be expanded through practice which he describes as working on technique, seeking constant critical feedback, and focusing ruthlessly on shoring up weaknesses.

All skill and talent is developed through practice, hard work, and determination.

Think of learning to skate First steps are tentative and then you progress to the point of being able to glide a little, until the inevitable wobble only to fall down. Up you get only to glide, wobble and fall all over again this process takes place over and over again. With determination and great effort you develop the skills necessary namely: balance, and coordination to enable you to skate. What you are actually doing is growing the electronic circuitry necessary for performing a new skill – skating. The process of failing and fixing; making small adjustments and then trying over and over and over again is precisely how you build more myelin

Supporting the Development of Technique

Recently I have been working with a group of 6 graduates for whom practice, precision, and persistence will make a huge difference to their ability to secure future roles in the business. Training courses do not enable the time for individual coaching and feedback required to support individuals to perfect their skills and managers often do not have the time to coach individuals, so a different approach to skill acquisition was required.

By breaking the content of a course down into small chunks to allow participants to practice each step, receive feedback,, repeat, and Talent Developmentcorrect mistakes before effectively bolting the chunks together to build the skill has produced amazing results and results that count in a fiercely competitive specialist sector where talent is scarce 6 individuals have secured full time roles.
All it took was practice, persistence, and a lot of attention to precision required to recognize and respond to the difference between an excellent and a mediocre performance.
As you watch your sport of choice this summer all of that repetition, the attention to detail, the persistence and then consider who with these talents at work is flying under your radar.


  • Check out the resources below that enable you to explore your talent requirements:

team development activity



Explore talent requirements with managers using THIS playing card activity



Take a look at our Nurturing Talent training course