In one of my leadership minute videos, I mentioned the knowing-doing gap. It was a concept I learned from a former boss, and I happened to see it in print today, referencing an article in HBR from 1999: The Smart Talk Trap by Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert I. Sutton.
The article makes some great points, including that Leaders learn to talk well, but may never actually do things, mostly because they are rewarded for talking. Talking is given more weight than doing, and ironically, more pay. It mentions that people tend to see criticism as more intelligent than praise. That organizations are driven to complex plans because simple ones are presumed to not be viable.
In many organizations, sounding intelligent takes priority over doing, and that has the effect of uninspiring others. Eilieen Shapiro, in Fad Surfing in the Boardroom, called mission statements “a magic talisman, hung in public places, to ward off evil spirits.”. In other words, mere words can be uninspiring and may actually inhibit performance.
Their solution is multi-pronged, and is basic blocking and tackling.
- Leaders who do the work, rather than just talk about it, help prevent the knowing-doing gap from opening in the first place.
- Plain talk and simple concepts are marching orders.
- Create informal rules governing discussion — focus not on faults but on overcoming them.
- Close the Loop—following up to make sure something actually happens after it has been decided on—isn’t a very complicated idea. But it is a potent means for preventing talk from being the only thing that occurs.