Leadership and the Knowing-Doing Gap
I recently had the good fortune to work on a great project with a high tech client here in Silicon Valley. The dilemma: how to take an interview and make it an engaging podcast for the company’s leaders? With a great companion in videography, Charles Anderson, combined with my graphic recording skills, we embraced the challenge.
First, the content. Bob Sutton is not only a professor at Stanford, but is also the author of several books with compelling titles: Good Boss, Bad Boss: How to Be the Best…and Learn From the Worst, The Knowing-Doing Gap: How Smart Firms Turn Knowledge Into Action (the title of the interview) and the one that gets a knowing giggle-The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t . During the interview, Bob shared how leaders often know what the right thing is to do, yet still manage to not do it in the moment. He indicated people often get mesmerized with their own “smart talk” without ever actually doing anything. A culture of blame tends to prevent people from moving toward what they know should be done.
Bob triggered my memories of experiences I’ve had working with leaders, who often get into a room and have lively debates of what needs to be fixed and what should be done. But often these strategic goals are so overwhelming, that it becomes difficult to know where to start. I remember in the 1990’s, people referenced the Harvard Business Review article about Nike and their big, hairy, audacious (it was Nike…the rumor is that “audacious” wasn’t the original word) goals. The problem, as Bob cites, is that people become frozen and don’t know where to begin when the goals are so big.
So how can you help people get started? Bob shared some the research from his colleague at Harvard, Professor Teresa Amabile, who found that what matters is what happens every day. Think of a sports team, who has a rhythm of when pre-season, regular season and post-season is. In a company, when there are daily, weekly and monthly milestones, people find themselves able to “chunk down” a large task into manageable, bite-sized pieces that they can accomplish. One client I work with uses a process originated by Proctor and Gamble called OGSM: Objectives-Goals-Strategies-Measures. Internally, some remind themselves that there should be a “No-G-S-M,” to remind themselves of what Bob says is things to NOT focus on. “When everything is important, then nothing is important,” Bob reminds us. The key overall is to keep things “Sesame Street Simple,” because in simplicity, people are able to focus on little things that move the needle. My favorite point Bob said was to think about interactions you have with people and consider “After I talk to them, do I have MORE OR LESS energy?” Positive energy, after all, can move things forward.
On the delivery end of this arrangement, our task was to marry the video of the interview with an engaging process, hence where the graphic comes in. Listening to an edited version of the interview, I drew the key points of the talk, enhanced with graphics and color. Once the chart was drawn, Charles used the camera to capture the points of the chart and use them as a backdrop to Bob’s video appearance. The chart zooms in to sync with the audio portion, reinforcing each point. The client enhanced the output further by helping to break down the overall video into 3 distinct, digestible pieces for the audience. In addition, because the chart was drawn as a complete visual, the company’s leaders can download it as a PDF to reinforce what they heard, share the information with others and use it to follow along as they listen!