Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, a Spanish novelist, poet, and playwright, is well known to many of us as the author of the one of the kind book: "Don Quixote". This is not the only book written by him, but indeed the most influential one. In his book, Saavedra writes: "There is a big difference between speaking and doing".
Being honest with ourselves, all of us, as managers, workers and private people, are living examples. We all know that there are things that are right to be done and even though we are aware, we do not behave accordingly; we know about techniques and methodologies that were proven successful, and yet we do not take action.
What makes us concentrate on speaking rather than on doing? What makes us know more and implement less? How can we be sure that our employees, whom we manage, do more than speak? In an era of knowledge, when we rely on what our employees decide to share, and can only partly control what actually is done and achieved, it is important to give them, and give ourselves, the tools to encourage doing, and better balance speaking and doing.
I think I always tried to preach what I say. Enough? Probably not. A book I have read over a year ago, "the Knowing Doing Gap", written by Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert Sutton, is my guide to this non-ending dilemma.
Why do people tend to speak rather act? There are several reasons:
First, we appreciate people who speak. Sometimes even more than those who do: Because speaking wisely is here and now, and results of doing are observed only later;
Because speaking outlines the message, but it takes some thinking to understand the messages behind the acting;
Because people who speak (if they do not exaggerate) are considered as people who influence and in some cases, even thought leaders;
Because in colleges and universities in management programs we talk and write, but hardly actually do;
And...Because most of us were appointed to our jobs after checking mainly our speaking skills.
Secondly, we all were all brought-up learning that planning is essential before acting, and the more we plan, the less we need to work on doing. In some projects, we finish all resources of time, money and management care, and yet we are in the phase of planning.
Furthermore, it is easier to speak than do; it requires less energy.
The list is of reasons why to speak rather act is not that short. I will just add that it is very challenging to change existing habits of work, in order to do new things. Leading the change is so difficult, that in some cases we convince ourselves that if we speak, we also implement. Are organizational activities of building a vision and sets of values, actually turning the vision and values into reality? Is a manager stating in the company broad meeting that innovation is important, actually implementing innovation of his people? And there are many more examples.
A few tips that assist in assuring that we will also act and not only speak:
- Pay attention to the balance between meetings and doing; pay attention to the balance between documents (presentation, white papers) and fieldwork.
- Implement the organization's values and turn them into reality; they probably are guiding us in the right direction.
- Promote mainly, workers from inside the organization; less, bring managers from outside. Encourage the incentives of employees to act.
- Assure that every manager and manager works on the field level and does not purely manage others, just remembering the fieldwork from the past.
- Speak simple. It is OK to have a complicated idea if it can be explained in simple words and can be translated into simple actions. If people understand what is expected from them, there is a good chance they will actually do it.
- Distribute responsibility and authority; be patient to mistakes that result. People will not act if they are to be punished when they err.
- Prevent measuring results of the individual employee. If we measure- measure processes of work rather than results. Measure teams rather than individuals. By that, we encourage work within teams (that is so important in the era of knowledge workers). Only measuring results may trigger short-term benefits, but can damage and act as a boomerang in the long term. How to measure the individual? Measure them as to how they comply with the organization's values.
- Prevent competition inside the organization. Most of the competitions are sum-zero and if someone wins, we have others that loose. We all know that competition is a trigger for motivating the people and we all have examples that prove it (i.e. in sports). Competition is important? Encourage outside competition.
- Nurture learning via workshops and hands-on experiencing. Lectures deal with speaking. Teach people through doing. Who learns from doing – does.
In addition, a last tip. I, personally, prepared a short list based on these guidelines and it is presented in front of me every day, pasted on the wall in my study room. At least, once a month, I check myself to see that I did not turn to be an over-speaker in one way or another.
What will we benefit? First, more doing. Later on, more self-satisfaction; and in the end- probably better performance, to our organization, our families (if we took the tips that direction), or if we are lucky- then both.
It is worthwhile. Try it.