Breaking the Comfort Zone
As the high school basketball season comes to a close, the teams begin to look forward to the challenges and victories of next season, and their coaches contemplate the practice goals needed to take their players to the next level. For the athletes, this practice is critical to their team’s success, and it’s instrumental to their own personal development. All too often, however, all that practice, development, and focus seems to evaporate when the players step onto a rival school’s court for an away game. This is particularly true of rookie players who may have never set foot in any school other than their own, never mind another school’s gymnasium. What’s at issue is the problem of “second venue.” The players become so acclimated to their own court—the bounce of the floor, the color of the walls and bleachers, the acoustics, even the odors—that their individual performances become tied to that space. They may succeed spectacularly in their home court, but once they move into unfamiliar surroundings their focus is shifted ever-so-slightly to where it can impair their game, often to dramatic results. This “second venue effect” also applies to actors and musicians who must rehearse in spaces other than the stage upon which they’ll ultimately perform. Until the individual has had the opportunity to calibrate themselves to the final performance environment, their performance will never equal the strength of their practice. Practice, no matter how intense or focused, can easily become preparation for poor execution unless it accounts for the likely effects of the real world.
The retail sales floor has its own version of the second-venue effect, and it applies to customer engagement skills practice. For most retailers, customer engagement skills development has historically consisted of traditional role-play and scenario-based trainings that occur in the back room or on-line or through written manuals. These methods might work well to set expectations or model desired behaviors. Unfortunately, these conventional modes of development can’t compare to the more substantial experience of practicing in the real world, on the sales floor in the actual work environment. Training doesn’t become learning (and ultimately translate into sales success) until the new employee is out on the floor, possibly dealing with real customers, or at the very least being coached by a competent and committed fellow staffer.