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Knowing Versus Doing

by David Brock on June 25th, 2015

There were some interesting comments on my post, Focus On The Customer–Magic Happens!

Mike Kunkle wrote that he found it “Amazing that people were amazed.”  Michael Harris raised the issue of “Knowing Versus Doing.”

These are issues I wrestle with constantly, and which drive great frustration.  I think this issue–Knowing Versus Doing–it at the crux of organizational and individual performance excellence.  Whether we are looking at sales, marketing, customer service or any type of sustained levels of high performance, more often than not, it seems we know what we should be doing–yet we consistently fail to execute.

For my entire professional career, we’ve known things like:  We need to focus on the customer, we need to create value, we need to have a sales process, we need to prospect, we need to research and prepare–maximizing our impact with every customer call, we need to create business justified solutions, we need to understand the customers’ businesses/strategies/markets, we need to be problem solvers, we need to ask relevant high impact questions, we need to focus on our sweet spot and on highly qualified opportunities, we need to…. we need to…. we need to….

At a managerial level, we know we have to have strong strategies and make sure our people are aligned in executing the strategies, we have to provide the right systems/processes/tools/training/incentives, we have to have the right metrics in place, we have to make sure our people understand our expectations of performance, we have to teach/coach/develop our people, we have to set examples, we have to provide leadership, we have to hire the best, we have to manage performance, we have to ….  we have to…… we have to…..

Hundreds of thousands of articles and blog posts on these topics have been written by thousands of people, thousands of books have been written, billions have been spent on training, further billions have been spent on consultants.  Billions have been spent in research and analysis validating these things we know to be right are, in fact right, and produce the desired outcomes–if we implement and execute consistently.

The basic principles remain consistent–the emphasis of some over the others may shift.  Technology and advances in thinking may enable us to do things a little differently or more efficiently.  We may change the words we use to describe these things to be sexier, hotter, or to make people think we’ve discovered something new–but the fundamentals remain consistent.

I speak with thousands of business professionals a year, it’s rare that I encounter someone—at least someone who’s been working for a number of years–that doesn’t “Know” the most impactful things they can be doing.  Their LinkedIn Profiles demonstrate this when they cite all the training courses or certifications they have.  When I meet with company executives and look at the past training, the systems/tools, past consultants, and so forth, it’s clear they “know” what the should be doing–or at least have the capabilities of easily discovering these things.  Everyone “talks” about the right issues and the fundamentals.

For the most part, we “Know” what we should be doing and what drives performance excellence.

Yet, for some reason, too often, we simply fail to “do” these things.  We may try them out for a while, but we slip into bad habits.  Or we face difficulties and rather than understanding the problem, we just abandon what we know to be right for the familiar–even though it may not have been working.

Everyone “knows” what to do.

Top performers “do” what they know to be the right things–at least more often and more consistently.

Yes, even top performers don’t do everything they should be doing.  But they are doing more of the right things more consistently than everyone else.  And that’s what separates them.

The toughest thing about doing what you know to be right is to have both the courage to start and the courage to continue.

It’s not an easy path–otherwise everyone will do the things they know they should be doing.  Translating knowing into doing is tough.

We make mistakes, we’re smart enough to recognize them and correct them.  We know it’s hard work but we don’t shy away from it, because we also know it produces the results we want.

If you have the courage to do the things you know you should be doing, start simple.

Prioritize what you need to change.

Do no more than the top two.  Stick with those until you master them, until they become muscle memory.

Then do the next two.  Likewise, master them.

At this point you are doing four more of the right things, consistently–you are starting to outperform those who aren’t, so you are already ahead.

But don’t stop there.  Choose the next two, then the next two….

We know the things critical to top performance, we’ve read about them, we talk about them.

Now just do it  (with due respect to Nike).

  1. Yeah, another amazing thing, this gap. Jeffrey Pfeffer wrote a whole book on it a while back: (BTW, that links supports charity: water 😉

    I have some wild theories, especially in the sales profession, that while there IS a clear and pervasive Knowing-Doing gap, there is an equally large Kinda-Know-But-Can’t-DO, skills gap.

    You say we all know what to do. I’m not sure they REALLY do know what to do. Sometimes, it’s more of a vague concept (we should XYZ), but they can’t articulate past the simplest terms, or truly demonstrate it. And if they can, it’s really uncomfortable, awkward, and doesn’t work well (they aren’t at Mastery and aren’t receiving any coaching to get there).

    I’ve seen evidence of this in a few situations:
    * A classroom full of 3-30-year sales pros, none (not one) of whom could articulate an open question, on the first attempt, without instructor coaching, during a fishbowl exercise.
    * A classroom of sales managers who couldn’t make an empathy statement from the customer’s perspective (starting with “you…” versus “I understand…”).
    * A SWOT analysis that was supposed to be completely from the BUYER’s perspective, completely filled out from an internal perspective.
    * An inability to patiently pursue a strategic line of questioning and ask follow-up questions to get to a deep understanding of the issue… supplanted by an urgent push to start speaking about products and solutions.

    Habits are hard to break. Even when we KNOW the right thing to do. I fall prey to this more in my personal life than my professional life (or so I think, lol), but I still fall prey to it.

    Self-awareness is certainly an issue here. So is caring enough. So is really knowing what to do and how to do it beyond the basic words, as I mentioned above. So is seeing enough value and benefit to changing. It’s a real cauldron of issues.

    And I’m starting to believe that those of us who are working in the talent and performance development field, aren’t doing enough to help people now only KNOW better, but then also walk the talk we suggest with buyers, and help them see HOW and WHY to really change — co-creating the value with them.

    To have created Value, the Outcomes minus the [Solution Cost + Change Pain] must be greater than the Pain of the Current Situation, right? And the difference must be large enough to compel people to take action and move off the status quo. We apply this thought process to selling, and influencing buyers, but I don’t often see us applying the same reasoning to help people close the Knowing-Doing Gap. (They should just do it, right? Like Nike?)

    I think until we help org leaders and individual contributors to the point of perceiving the real value, we will always KNOW we should have a sales process, or ask open questions at the start of Discovery, or make empathy statements and question to understand concerns before resolving them, but we won’t get nearly enough people to DO those things.

    This is what’s been rolling around in my head lately, anyway. You just happened to draw it out with a series of good posts. Probably sorry now, aren’t you? 😉

  2. T gill fuqua permalink

    Sales education investment is seldom a priority in many organizations, thank you for a little inspiration

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