“One of the main barriers to turning knowledge into action is the tendency to treat talking about something as equivalent to doing something about it.” — Jeffery Pfeffer & Robert Sutton, The Knowing-Doing Gap
It’s subtle and pervasive in many corporate cultures. Talk substituting for action. I’ve often found a frequent offender to be the manager who’s gung-ho about a new management book. He likes the concepts. He talks about them often. He gets others to read the book. They like them too. The book’s jargon makes its way into their everyday language. Everyone’s excited to be on board with the latest management thinking. Amidst the excitement, everyone fails to realize a simple fact. They’re not actually putting the concepts into practice. They’re just talking about them. Eventually cynicism follows the delusion because nothing really changes. The book is put on the shelf. Then someone finds a new book…
A year ago I coached an executive who loved to talk about a particular book. A few weeks into our coaching I realized that despite all his talk, he and his team weren’t putting most of it into practice. One day I surprised him with an outline of the book. It had 8 key points. One-by-one I asked him to describe how he was implementing each of them. And one-by-one he gave me vague answers about meetings and planning committees. I pushed him for details. He didn’t have many. Eventually, the details became the focus of our coaching. At the end of our work together he remarked, “You really didn’t teach me many new ideas. You did something better. You helped me figure out how to acutually IMPLEMENT several I’ve been talking about for years.”
1. Open your current favorite management book.
2. Summarize the relevant key points in a few bullets
3. For each bullet ask yourself, “Should we be doing this?”
4. If you answer yes, ask yourself, “Are we actually doing this or just talking about it?”
5. Where you’re just talking, put a real plan together (i.e. process and structure).
6. Implement it.
Question – How do you ensure talk doesn’t parade as action in your organization?
Doug Sundheim • Executive Coach, New York City • firstname.lastname@example.org