Blog Post

Why Don't We "Just Do It"?

Dr. Tom Tonkin

Principal, Thought Leadership & Advisory Services

In a 2012 report, the weight loss industry clocked in at $20 billion dollars a year. This includes books, drugs and weight loss surgeries. At any given time, there are about 108 million dieters in the US, a third of the country. Yet, the US Department of Health and Human services reports that more than 2 out of 3 adults are at some level of obesity.

In the manufacturing world, since the 1980s, the garment industry agreed that the modular way (team approach) of producing clothing is preferred, yet in 1992, 80% of all garments produced were still using a bundling method (individually done).

In a recent study conducted in September of this year, 188 learning and development professionals were asked if they thought collaborative learning would help job performance in their respective organization. Ninety-six percent responded either "Strongly Agree" or "Agree." When asked whether they have implemented collaborative learning in their organization, 85% responded "No."

What's the Deal?

Okay, so what’s the deal with everybody knowing what to do and doing nothing about it? This is exactly the central question that Pfeffer and Sutton (2000) challenge. They call it the knowing-doing gap, the space between organizations understanding what is required to happen and the lack of action to make it happen. This is an important topic for us in the talent management space since there is a lot of money spent training with arguably little impact shown. To understand the magnitude of what is spent, ASTD reported that in 2011, $156.2 billion was spent on learning and development in the US. It is imperative that we understand the causes and solutions to solve the knowing-doing gap.

Pfeffer and Sutton give us several reasons why these gaps exists, and I am hopeful to share those with you in a later blog post; however, there is one that is germane to this discussion, lack of learning. The reason that the knowing-doing gap continues to exist is that active learning requires making mistakes, and organizations are usually not accepting of mistakes. Thus, for an organization to close the knowing-doing gap, it must establish itself as a forgiving organization.

Forgive me please, but...

The connection from learning to forgiveness is that forgiveness gives us the opportunity to make mistakes, have flaws and breakdowns to spark wisdom and new capabilities. Webster’s New World College Dictionary states that forgiveness is to give up resentment and the desire to punish – it is a choice. Therefore, to achieve a forgiving organization there must be the ability to support employees, restore relationship and ongoing training that reinforces these principles. What can you do to be more forgiving?

There are two objections you need to get past to be able to forgive someone, the feeling of accepting what they did as being ’fine’ and the personal protection that comes from being angry towards someone’s actions.

  1. Put yourself in their shoes, how would you want to be treated? This eliminates any tendency to want to see the sinister side of their actions.

  1. When you did forgive someone in the past, how did you do it? Put those behaviors to work for you every time to feel angry towards another’s actions

  1. Understand that we all are trying to do the best we can with the resources we have, just like you.

Tom Watson, IBM founder, was faced with a situation in which an employee had made a mistake that cost the company $600,000. When asked if he was going to fire the employee, Watson replied, "Why should I do that, I just spent $600,000 training him."

Are you ready to close the knowing-doing gap?

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