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Knowledge Does Not Apply Itself

How organizations can close the "knowing-doing gap" with executive coaching.
Businessmen sitting down and looking over something for executive coaching session

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The “knowing-doing gap” is a term that refers to the phenomenon of executives failing to apply knowledge and learning to their day-to-day decision-making and actions. This can occur in various forms, including not implementing new strategies or best practices or repeating past mistakes even after they have been identified and analyzed.  

The knowing-doing gap has been studied for decades as a concern both within the workplace and our personal lives. In 2000, the term gained further attention when Pfeffer and Sutton published The Knowing-Doing Gap: How Smart Companies Turn Knowledge into Action, which highlights the importance of turning knowledge into performance. 

The Knowledge Part Is Common, but the Doing…

It’s common sense that executives, or anyone for that matter, can be hindered by their lack of knowledge about subject matter that’s important to their success. What doesn’t seem so clear, for some inexplicable reason, is the need to follow through to apply what they have learned. 

Often, Learning and Development trainers focus on the delivery of material without having plans to assess how people both absorb the knowledge and then apply it to their daily workflow. This is why the phrase “knowledge does not apply itself” is an essential reminder for anyone looking to succeed in their professional endeavors. In the business world, it’s not enough to simply have knowledge; it must be applied in a practical way to make an impact. 

The knowing-doing gap is particularly prevalent in the business world, where executives may be inundated with information, but struggle to translate this knowledge into action. There are many potential reasons for this gap, including a lack of motivation, poor communication, organizational barriers, or a lack of accountability. In some cases, executives may also fall victim to a bias for action, where they prioritize immediate action over strategic decision-making and long-term planning. 

The consequences of the knowing-doing gap can be significant, including missed opportunities, reduced efficiency, and decreased profitability. It can also lead to a loss of trust and credibility among stakeholders, both internally and externally. 

How to Overcome the Knowing-Doing Gap

To overcome the knowing-doing gap, executives must develop the skills and mindset they need to apply knowledge effectively. This includes establishing clear goals, creating actionable plans, and ensuring there is alignment throughout the organization. It also requires a culture that values learning and continuous improvement and encourages experimentation and risk-taking. 

Arootah’s executive coaching focuses on closing this gap by leveraging technology. Our coaches work with clients to utilize technology that essentially assures them that they will apply the knowledge 

For instance, while many coaches will teach (i.e., provide the knowledge) clients to utilize weighted criteria whenever they need to make a difficult decision, when these clients are on their own, most will not weigh the criteria or come up with any criteria at all. Arootah’s decision-making software mitigates this by making the “criteria weighting process” a mandatory step.   

Another way to overcome the knowing-doing gap is by using habit-tracking software. For example, a key part of Arootah’s executive coaching is reiterating the importance of quality sleep and energy for optimal performance. If the client then wants to build a habit of going to bed earlier to improve performance, they can enter that habit into our Habit Accountability Tracker, which yields a daily score. The client can also opt to provide their coach with access to the daily habit score for additional accountability.   

Results and Measurement

The true value of any Learning and Development program is shown through results. The key to results is measurement.  

However, the “doing” aspect of the knowing-doing gap can be difficult to quantify and assess. To determine if the “doing” component is being fulfilled, there are various performance indicators that can be employed, such as an evaluation of whether procedural standards are being met or an increase in revenue. 

Executive coaches should insist on specific, quantitative KPIs for their clients’ goals. They should monitor progress on the plan being executed, as well as the goal being accomplished.   

While 360-degree reviews and various other assessments are frequently done as part of the initial executive coaching engagement, they are done less so at the end. Unless organizations complete these assessments, the client, and the firm who paid for the engagement, won’t know if they received a high return on their investment in coaching.

The Bottom Line

The knowing-doing gap highlights the importance of not only acquiring knowledge but also being able to apply it effectively. Whether it’s through problem-solving, critical thinking, or creativity, the application of knowledge is an essential component of success.  

Executives must be willing to create an environment that fosters action and allows for experimentation and risk-taking, supported by clear goals and actionable plans. By doing so, they can avoid the knowing-doing gap and create a culture of success and continuous improvement. 

Looking for support to bypass the knowing-doing gap and reap the rewards of executive coaching? Book a free results coaching call and see how we can support your needs. 

Disclaimer: This article is for general informational purposes only and is not intended to be and should not be taken as professional medical, psychological, legal, investment, financial, accounting, or tax advice. Arootah does not warrant or guarantee the accuracy, reliability, completeness, or suitability of its content for a particular purpose. Please do not act or refrain from acting based on anything you read in our newsletter, blog or anywhere else on our website.

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