Making the Shift from Knowing to Doing: 7 bad habits that slow companies down

What keeps companies from acting on what they know?  Seven culture issues according to Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert Sutton.  In their classic business book, The Knowing-Doing Gap: How Smart Companies Turn Knowledge into Action, Pfeffer and Sutton point out that the problem in most organizations isn’t knowing what to do—but actually doing it.

See if any of these bad habits are present in your organization:

  1. Mimicking best practices instead of underlying values.  Organizations looking to learn from best-in-class companies often move immediately to copy the best practices of a leading company instead of taking a moment to understand the concept behind the practice.  Don’t substitute copying for thinking.  It’s not the foosball table that makes it a great place to work—it’s the corporate value that makes buying a foosball table a good idea that is the real best practice.
  2. Staying conceptual instead of getting practical.  Theories and models have their place for understanding and organizing content, but they are no substitute for working on real business issues.  It isn’t until people put concepts into practice, with real consequences, that learning takes place. 
  3. Planning and deciding instead of doing.  A slightly more sophisticated version of staying conceptual that only seems more action-oriented.  Remember the question, “If five frogs are sitting on a log, and one decides to jump, how many frogs are left on the log?”  (The answer is five until the frog actually jumps.)  Never mistake planning and decision-making with doing.  They are two different activities.
  4. Punishing failure instead of encouraging initiative.  When people stretch and take action, it often ends up in failure—even under the best of circumstances.  How does your company react to failure?  Is it seen as a chance to learn and adjust, or is it time to punish and reprimand?  If you want your organization to have a bias for action, people need to have the freedom to fail occasionally.
  5. Setting a poor example at the top.  People know to watch for actions instead of announcements when it comes to trying to figure out where senior leadership really stands on an issue.  Don’t announce an open-door policy: simply leave your door open.  Demonstrate desired behaviors through your own actions.  Nothing speaks louder.
  6. Creating a competitive internal environment.  People need and want to collaborate but organizations often set up structures, policies, and incentives that create internal competition.  Encourage teamwork by designing policies that promote collaboration instead of competition.
  7. Poor measurement and tracking.  What gets measured is what gets managed.  Be picky in deciding which key metrics to focus on.  Some organizations measure everything, or leave it to individual departments to decide what is measured.  This can lead to “siloed” thinking and a focus on departmental goals instead of the big picture.  Think overall and organization-wide when it comes to measurement.

Develop an attitude of action.  Understanding, planning, and deciding are just the first step.  Doing is what counts.  Take action today!

3 thoughts on “Making the Shift from Knowing to Doing: 7 bad habits that slow companies down

  1. Pingback: Making the Shift from Knowing to Doing: 7 bad habits that slow [organizations] down « Ministry Management Memo

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