The knowing-doing gap: Part 2

Companies which hog the high ground are so far ahead of those mired in the Ground Hog Day loop that (Bill Murray aside) it’s not funny. The pervasiveness of Ground Hog Day, and the elusively fast “beam me up Scotty” routes from gloomy labyrinthine underground burrows to the high ground of productivity and innovation were discovered by Potter and Megan (our resident optimist and critic) when they sipped tea with masters who close the knowing-doing gap.

Armed with our guru map they had selected and interviewed two masters – Maggie Loughrey, founding partner at the boutique cultural change consultancy Reveur and Mike Allen, managing partner at the Centre for Organisation Development.

Policies and practices that close the right-wrong knowing-doing gap, that is, knowing what’s right and not doing it, underpin action to close the “what works” and “what’s best” knowing-doing gaps. And with masters in the driving seat we shot past “what works” on a direct route to “what’s best”. Here’s what we found…  

1. A pattern of repeated failed efforts to improve “speaks” the problem.

Ground Hog Day perfectly encapsulates executive experience when their cultures repeatedly, quietly, mindlessly sabotage improvement initiatives.  Essentially, “tried this, tried that and still stuck with the same mordant situation year after year”.

Allen told us of managers firing “problem people” and hiring promising new talent that on immersion in the culture slowly spiral into a new wave of “problem people”. Loughrey told us of high hopes driving serial structural changes over several years repeatedly smothered by embedded beliefs, behaviours and habits.

2. Early steps require “underground” work as well as diagnostic tools.

We know that nasty thoughts, if not actions, go hand in hand with nasty cultures. It’s easy to forget that employee concerns about safety, security and acceptance also hover just below the surface. Allen says, “At the start we move between new possibility and old haze, confusion and hurt. The first task is to get expectations clear as we communicate a clear line of sight for everyone in the organisation – between vision and values to what a person does every day that makes that vision and values a reality. On the job we listen and watch, and pause when we need to lance old wounds and challenge old ways.” 

Diagnostic tools, including the well-known MBTI™ and less well-known BLISS™, and entropy measures (labour energy wasted, on a percentage scale) support the early work.

3. Every working hog needs to take responsibility and have accountability – these takes and haves need to be woken up from long sleeps.

Companies with certified quality systems (eg. ISO 9000) have position descriptions that highlight responsibilities and accountabilities. Their workplace knowing-doing gaps can be very small. In the absence of robust quality systems cultural transformation masters assume that employees are adults able to take on responsibilities and accountabilities. Loughrey says, “When they have been micro-managed back to adolescence and childhood, rapid re-parenting brings out acknowledgements of past failures, for example failure by individuals to play a small but vital parts in putting decisions made by groups, into action”.

4. Leading hogs have to lift their game

Leaders in firms that have invested in 360 degree feedback processes are lucky – these complicated tools work. Other leading hogs, however hard working, usually have blind spots and need individual coaching.

“In my last project my work with the manager pre and post each workshop focused on what would need to be different in the way he operated, eg. what he gave priority to, talked about in regular catch ups, and how he was going to monitor progress and deal with escalated issues,” says Loughrey. He realised that he had a critical role to play in supporting the team’s renewed responsibility for closing their knowing-doing gaps; and breaking new ground in finally resolving the first of their long running issues. “They have to be the change they want to see,” Loughrey says.

5. Hog burrows and warrens

Corporate structure will determine whether it’s possible to work with the hogs occupying one or a few burrows and when it’s necessary to dynamite the entire warren; preferably after sending all hogs out to volunteer with the Salvos for a day. It’s easy (from the Masters POV) to wake up hogs in autonomous P&L burrows and in most corporate divisions. (For an amusing story of a bizarre hog inadvertently revealing a very big knowing-doing gap at a local council click here.)

Further findings and a checklist coming in part three of this blog instalment, so stay tuned!


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