The Seventy-Percent

One of the things that leaders struggle with in any profession or organization is turning what we know into what we do.  It can be one of the most difficult tasks in leading.  Finding the secret key to effectively turn what we learn, the knowledge that we gain, into behaviors and actions that are reflective of that same learning and knowledge.  And while it sounds easy, even simplistic…it is an incredibly challenging and elusive part of leading.

It is what Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert Sutton refer to as “The Knowing-Doing Gap”

The divide that exists between what we know and what we actually do.  A gap that often serves as the dividing line between the successful and the not-so-successful organizations.

The data from a study they conducted highlights how very often managers are in full agreement to what works…the requisite and essential strategies necessary to support success in their organization.  And yet, we learn from their study that…“There were, however, big differences between what the managers believed produced success and what they reported practicing in their units.”  

Pfeffer and Sutton accumulated data that identified how very often leaders had distinct gaps between what they thought was necessary for their organization to be successful and what they actually implemented in the real, day-to-day operations.  The divide was almost blaring in the fact that they had full understanding of these strategies for success…and yet, failed miserably in regards to turning that knowledge into action.

What is even harder for us to fathom is that Pfeffer and Sutton’s study uncovers the confession that these leaders understood that “they weren’t doing what they know to be important.”  In other words, they weren’t implementing the strategies that they firmly believed were necessary for the success of their organization.  These managers understood that “sharing of information, providing feedback, and involving their employees in learning how to improve operations” were vital and “widely understood” as necessary for their ongoing success…and still lacked implementation at the expense of the employees and the organization.

As Pfeffer and Sutton add…“time after time people understand the issues, understand what needs to happen to affect performance, but don’t do the things they know they should.”

And furthermore, “leaders frequently rationalized their actions – or more accurately their inaction – by creating elaborate explanations for why they chose not to do the things they knew were important to their business success.”

And yes, I know that you may be thinking…I get it, so what?  It’s just human nature.  If we provide enough learning, enough training, if we keep at it persistently we can most likely ingrain the knowledge enough that we can overcome this “Knowing-Doing Gap” with those we lead…and you may be right.  Isn’t this how we usually operate in regards to training and learning in our organizations for the most part, anyways?

And while I can’t cover all of the strategies and ideas that Pfeffer and Sutton advocate for overcoming our “Knowing-Doing Gap”…I would like us to ponder a few gems that they have provided for our consideration…

First…“essential knowledge, including technical knowledge, is often transferred between people by stories, gossip, and by watching one another work.”

And second…“most workplace learning goes on unbudgeted, unplanned, and uncultured by the organization…Up to 70% of workplace learning is informal.”

What Pfeffer and Sutton have provided us with is real insight into the importance of culture.  The importance of creating true learning organizations if we are going to be able to translate knowledge into action.

We learn that the stories we tell, the conversations that take place, and the collaboration processes that we create…will serve as change agents in our organizations.  And when we create cultures and environments that allow learning and sharing to flow throughout, we begin to determine our ability to overcome our “Knowing-Doing Gap”…we tap into and influence the informal learning that takes place in our organization.  We tap into that seventy-percent.


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