The Knowing/Doing Gap by Jeffrey

The Knowing/Doing Gap

by Jeffrey Pfeffer, Robert I. Sutton

"Did you ever wonder why so much education and training, management consultation, organizational research and so many books and articles produce so few changes in actual management practice?" ask Stanford University professors Pfeffer and Sutton. "We wondered, too, and so we embarked on a quest to explore one of the great mysteries in organizational management: why knowledge of what needs to be done frequently fails to result in action or behavior consistent with that knowledge."

Why do some organizations know what to do but don't do it?
(1) TALK substitutes for ACTION - making presentation instead of doing the actual stuff!
(2) MEMORY is a substitute for ACTION - limited by one's own thought and could not make a leap forward by implementing.
(3) FEAR prevents ACTING ON KNOWLEDGE - Yes! This is what bothers me for years!
(4) MEASUREMENT obstruct GOOD JUDGMENT
(5) Internal Competition turns FRIENDS into ENEMY.

"Unfortunately, using complex language and ambiguous terminology confuses people and inhibits action. One organization we studied gave employees laptop computers to provide them access to e-mail and the Internet, but describe this as a transformation to a virtual organization. This jargon confused people ... resulted in weeks of spreading rumors (e.g. our office is closing ...)"

Center for Workforce Development: "Most workplace learning goes on unbudgeted, unplanned, and uncaptured by the organization.... Up to 70 percent of workplace learning is informal."

Evaluations can be based on how well someone performs...or how smart the person seems. How smart they seem is often the only data at hand. Smart talk becomes confused with good performance.

Teresa Amabile notes, "Only pessimism sounds profound. Optimism sounds superficial." But at the end of the day, something still needs to get done.

A simple principle was applied in firms in which the measurement systems helped--rather than undermined--the ability to turn knowledge into action. Such firms measured things that were core to their culture.and values and intimately tied to their basic business model and strategy, and used these measures to make business processes visible to all employees.

What does affect performance, if it isn't competition? THere is a large body of research showing the power of the self-fulfilling prophecy, also called the Pygmalion effect, on performance. Independently of skill, intelligence, or even past performance, when teachers believe that their students will perform well, they do. Independently of other factors, when leaders believe their subordinates wil perform well, these positive expectations lead to better performance.

Guidelines for action:

Why before how. It's a process, it's not an answer. The successful organizations in the book begin not with specific techniques or practices but rather with some basic principles--a philosophy or set of guidelines about how they will operate.

Knowing comes from doing and teaching others how. In a world of conceptual frameworks, fancy graphics presentations, and, in general, lots of words, there is much too little appreciation for the power, and indeed the necessity, of not just talking and thinking but of doing--and this includes explaining and teaching--as a way of knowing.

Fear fosters knowing/doing gaps, so drive fear out. Christensen: "What companies need is a forgiveness framework, and not a failure framework, to encourage risk taking and empower employees to be thinking leaders rather than passive executives."


Posted by Jay Cross at November 11, 2001 05:59 PM | TrackBack
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