From Knowing to Doing: Fostering a Bias for Action

Have you ever been to a course or professional development seminar and come away inspired to make positive change? What happened next - Did you successfully change or, as is commonly the case, did you fail to put the lessons into practice? What about your business, does progressive change come easily or are better days always slightly out of reach for your company as a result of failing to make the most of opportunities?

Mind the Gap

For many of us, knowing what to do is easy, however putting this knowledge into practice, can at times seem downright impossible. Astonishingly, even when life itself depends on changing our ways, old habits die hard. This is illustrated by a recent study of patients with chronic heart conditions. It was found that even though the patients knew that they needed to change their habits around exercise, diet, and smoking to have a chance of regaining their health, only 1 in 7 actually followed through - unbelievable. This chasm between knowledge and action is the knowing-doing gap.

When a knowing-doing gap exists rather than taking action we preoccupy ourselves with busy work - we procrastinate, do copious amounts of unnecessary research, amass a collection of tools (that sit idly on the shelf), and study our environment waiting patiently for conditions to be perfect before beginning - this busy work is total inertia disguised as progress. The barrier that separates knowing from doing is fear - fear of treading into unknown territory, and failing at something new.

In knowledge there is surety and safety - knowledge is based on the past and has a track record. In action there is a degree of uncertainty, we may know the recipe for a cake and that others have baked it in the past, but we cannot be sure how our cake will taste until we put our money where our mouth is and bake it ourselves.

Closing the Gap: Moving from a Knowing to a Doing Culture

The role of workplace leaders in bridging the knowing-doing gap is to remove obstacles and the fears associated with taking action. This can be done by encouraging a bias for action. The core logic behind a bias for action is that:

  1. Speed and momentum matter in business. Action counts more than untested elegant plans and concepts.
  2. Regardless of time spent planning, mistakes will happen. Make them quickly, and adjust where necessary. Most actions and decisions can be reversed if necessary.

The best ways a leader can encourage a bias for action within their team is:

  1. Modeling Desired Behavior - For example ensure clear action steps are outlined and initiated following meetings.
  2. Show Trust in Staff - Provide the delegation authority and resources necessary for staff to act more autonomously.
  3. Reward Calculated Risk Taking - When praising and compensating staff focus on actions taken (and learning gained) rather than a sole focus on outcomes.

Knowledge is power, but only when it’s used wisely.

HRBD can help you take the next step to bridge the knowing-doing gap.

Alistair Kerr, MPsychOrg; PostGradDip Psych; BPsych

Organisaitonal Development Strategist | Psychologist

07 3890 2066

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