The Knowing-Doing Gap In An Organization

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Even though a lot of the behaviors that can foster innovation are common sense, it is quite hard to make people exhibit these behaviors. Simply being aware of what needs to be done, does not mean that it will be done. This is what we referred to as the “Knowing-Doing Gap”. Managers often try to elicit innovative behaviors from their employees by trying to argue rationally and explain the benefits of acting in a certain way or even worse by using scare tactics to create a sense of urgency in the firm. Both approaches are fruitless and often lead to the quite the opposite outcomes.

The “Knowing-Doing Gap” is often present in most organizations and there are various reasons that cause it and reinforce it. We talked about social loafing as a key factor, whereby employees and managers believe that if they put off something, someone else will pick up the slack and drive the initiative. Therefore, they end up not seeing things through and not putting enough effort behind initiatives or projects that they believe could be completed by someone else. Another reason could be hidden assumptions, when people jump to various conclusions by trying to connect the dots in different situations. We discussed the case of the shoe shop, where different conclusions could be drawn using different assumptions, because the problem was framed in a confusing way. Furthermore, what is often mistaken as resistance to change, unwillingness to cooperate or demotivation is usually lack of clarity regarding tasks and expectations set by managers. This is usually the result of poor communication which leads to confusion.

Certain behaviors that managers ask from their employees go against the automatic behaviors they are used to exhibiting. People tend to conform to what everyone else does when managers would prefer their people to think outside the box and stick their neck out for new opportunities. Incentives and motivations lead to people becoming competitive, but managers would prefer them to be collaborative and cooperating with each other. Social loafing occurs, instead to drive innovation and change employees should take the initiative and become a force for change. Rather than searching for the optimal solution it would be best for employees to have the freedom to try things out on a small scale, experiment and see what works best. Finally, while people are consumed by thinking about their day-to-day operational issues, managers would prefer employees to think strategically about the broader implications. Most importantly, behaviors exhibited by people in a company stem from the broader organization environment of the company and how that is set up.

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The organizational environment of a firm is comprised of four elements:

  • Culture & values: refer to what the company aspires to be, how employees treat each other and how they are expected to work together
  • Structure & processes: how a company is set up in terms of governance, hierarchy, reporting lines but also in terms of office space setup, information dissemination within the company, etc.
  • Incentives: what means the top management uses both financial and non-financial to ensure employees perform well
  • People: includes the type of people hired, the capabilities of these people as well as their various skills that make them assets to the company.

The underlying environment is often underestimated in its importance in shaping an innovative company and mindset. It is not enough to agree on a strategy to drive change. Leaders must aim to sell this strategy to employees effectively and making sure they win the emotional commitment of employees. In addition, companies need to create organizational environments that are supportive of the “right” behaviors. To encourage the dissemination of the strategy companies must also develop the right day-to-day behaviors from everybody in the company that support and not undermine the strategy execution. The different elements of the organizational environment must fit together harmoniously and reinforce each other to achieve the company goals and vision. While it can be argued that individuals in an organization can do little to change the environment on their own, we discussed the theory of the Butterfly Principle, whereby small changes can have a big impact cumulatively. We talked about Andy Murray who when asked about what he changed to win grand slams he argued that he made lots of small changes in his game that led to an overall improvement. Managers should aim to tweak the environment around them enough to encourage the “right” behaviors by making them a bit easier, while discouraging “wrong” behaviors by making them a bit harder.

One of the ways managers can change the culture at work is to lead by example, to exhibit the day-to-day behaviors they would like their employees to exhibit and to foster an innovative environment and culture. Additionally, language and word choice matter a lot and seem to have a great influence on people’s behaviors. By appealing to the identity of employees rather than their behaviors, managers will be more effective in galvanizing them behind a cause and getting the “right” behaviors from them. Likewise, in class we discussed about Steve Jobs’ idea to locate the bathrooms at Pixar only in one area to force people from around the building to move around, thereby meeting others and collaborating. This is just one example that highlights how physical space can also influence the behaviors of employees and is another tool that should be deployed by companies. Furthermore, managers can focus on the incentives that are within their immediate control, such as how they allocate their time at work, how and how often they recognize their employees and how they allocate challenging tasks to encourage the “right” behaviors.

Finally, by advertising the “right” behaviors and not scolding employees, managers can achieve better more lasting results. If enough managers start making small changes in their immediate environment, this will eventually create a sufficiently-sized number of tweaks that will tip the scale and lead to a change in the overall organizational environment.

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