Tuesday, May 21, 2013

If Practice Makes Perfect, Why Don’t Companies Practice More?

An H.Bloom University video conference. 
Courtesy of H.Bloom An H.Bloom University video conference.

In his terrific book “Outliers,” Malcolm Gladwell writes about the importance of practice and, specifically, the necessity of completing 10,000 hours of practice in a particular field to become proficient. This makes sense to me. Everything I did before starting in business taught me that practice was essential to achieving success. In school, I had two or three exams each semester, but I went to class every day. Moreover, I had voluminous amounts of homework each night to refine my skills in a particular subject. In football, there were 10 games in a season, but nearly 100 practices.

 Why is it that, in business, no one ever practices?

At my previous company, practice was viewed as an afterthought. Once a year, someone would say, “Maybe we should do some training.” Heads would nod, and the person who had come up with the idea would arrange for a third-party specialist to come in to conduct training for a particular group within the company. Members of that group would shuffle into the room, help themselves to the coffee and bagels, nod politely to the instructor as a lesson was presented and then shuffle out at the end — knowing that they would not be subjected to practice or training again until the next year. Every day was a game, and excellence was expected despite the utter absence of practice.

I view this as a massive opportunity. If most companies put their “players” on the “field” without the benefit of practice, surely those that put real emphasis on practice would gain a distinct advantage. Here’s what we’re doing at H.Bloom:

SEED Program
We introduced our SEED Program at the beginning of 2011. The program recruits people who aspire to run their own business but know that they need to learn the basics. We bring these ambitious folks into one of our already-existing markets and have them rotate through all aspects of the business: buying, production, delivery, account-management, sales and customer service. Those who graduate have the opportunity to move to a different city to open and run a new H.Bloom market. Today, four of our five markets are run by SEED graduates, and we have another three SEED participants in rotation now, hoping for their chance to open and lead a new market.

The SEED Program for market managers has worked so well that we are starting a SEED Program for sales people. I alluded to this possibility in a previous post, and I am happy to report that it is happening. Even more exciting, the ambitious person I interviewed in Pittsburgh a few weeks ago has accepted our offer and is moving to New York City to be our first Sales-SEED participant. We expect to start the program by the end of May with a group of people who will engage in a three-to-six-month program that consists of daily lead-generation activities, weekly sales training, on-the-ground training in our New York market and monthly classes with members of our executive team. Successful graduates will have the opportunity to move to a new market and lead our sales efforts there.

H.Bloom University

At the end of last year, we started H.Bloom University. While the SEED Program is focused on training people to take on a new role, H.Bloom University is meant to refine the skills of people in their current roles. We are running two tracks, and a few other tracks are under development:


Our entire sales team meets monthly, by video conference, to work on specific sales skills. One of our sales managers leads each of the sessions. Training classes have included: time management, building a sales pipeline, cold calling and using Salesforce. The instructor builds a slide deck to present and oversees a skills workshop for each participant.


One of the most fulfilling aspects of my job is leading the monthly management classes. Again, these are done by video conference. I do two each month on the same topic: one for our market managers and one for our sales managers. I split the group to ensure that each person’s face can show up on the video screen — we use Adobe Connect to facilitate the conference, and a session of six people is about the maximum for getting ideal user engagement.

Recent classes have covered communication, feedback, expectation/goal setting, inspection of results and data-driven decision-making (which I will cover in more detail in my next post). I come up with the topic, and then our head of talent, Rebekah Rombom, finds reading material that is germane to the coming discussion. Recent readings have included chapters from Jim Collins “Good to Great” and Kenneth Blanchard’s “The One Minute Manager.”

This week, I’ll be reviewing our profit-and-loss statement in detail, walking through the things I look at in the income statement and the levers we can flip to improve the economics of our business. At the end of each class, I make an assignment (based on feedback I got from our Dallas manager, Julie Schiller, a former school teacher, who told me that retention of lessons is highest when an assignment is given immediately after a class so that students have the chance to put the new information into practice). We then schedule a follow-up for each attendee to present their work for that assignment to the group.

Operations and Floral Design

Rebekah is developing a program for these two position-types. We expect to start the programs for our operations team members and floral designers by the end of the year.


We’ve engaged with a third party to help arrange customized training classes for our software engineers. I’ll have more to discuss on this topic after the first sessions are held.
We’ve really just gotten started with our efforts. I don’t think we do it well yet or with the frequency that I’d like. But I do believe we have identified an opportunity to build a fundamental advantage in our business.

Bryan Burkhart is a founder of H.Bloom. You can follow him on Twitter.

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