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Mind the gap - from knowing to doing

I once worked with a colleague who attended so many professional development events that I lost count. He had endorsements, certificates, licences, degrees, subscriptions, books, diplomas and it seems he was always enrolled in or reading about the next best thing. I was envious of his curiosity and capacity until another colleague said to me – he’s over-educated and under-practised. The penny then dropped! Yes, he could talk about this theory and that acronym, and wax lyrical about the recent management trends and buzz words…but there was very little evidence of application and delivery.

It's likely we have all worked one or two highly qualified colleagues who are brilliant at ‘talking the talk’. But, when it comes to execution – there is nothing there. They can’t deliver.

The challenge of the ‘gap’ has been on my mind for some time. In my early days of capability uplift for change practitioners, the change model ‘du jour’ was John Kotter’s eight steps. Yes, it was a couple of decades ago which does drop some clues about my time in this profession (aka biological age). I would draw the eight steps on a large flip chart and with post it notes, we would add the change deliverables and activity that we planned for each step. This brought a theoretical model to life and many observed that this approach was a big AHA moment for them. That worked well for planned change in stable environments.

Now, we are in a business climate of relentless change and high uncertainty with a demand for speed and agility.

For many, this gap from knowing to doing is a big one. It can be tricky to get started, to apply new information or knowledge straight away and to put it into practice. It could be a lack of confidence or opportunity, laziness, timing, or simply not knowing how to make the jump.

Being mindful of the gap is the first step. When you are learning or reading about something new, ask yourself:

How might I apply this straight away so I can test and learn?

Taking it from knowing to doing – here’s how:

1. Experiment

Try it out. Find a process or business area or team where it’s safe to experiment. Tell your team or stakeholders you are experimenting to manage expectations. This is how we test and learn. Experiment, reflect, record your insights and identify what went well and what could be done better next time. Always learning and iterating and learning more. Our online learning programs at the Agile Change Leadership Institute encourage this by providing an experiment canvas. In our Certificate of Agile Change Leadership, testing and learning through experimentation forms part of the assessment for completion.

2. Focus on ‘done’

Are you setting the bar too high? Or attached to perfection?

This can prevent us from starting, making it ‘paralysis by perfection’. Keep in mind perfection is subjective and a very fast-moving target – what may appear perfect today will be different tomorrow. One way to shift towards action is to focus on the definition of ‘done’. A personal Kanban board is helpful. Share you work that is around 60% done with others to invite feedback.

For many, this is a difficult shift. This is why we cover ‘Done is Better than Perfect’ in our learning programs. It’s also one of our five key mindset shifts to thrive in an environment of continuous change and agility.

3. Start small

Starting with small steps, or chunking the work into smaller parts, helps build our confidence and overcome an attachment to perfection. For example, if you are not ready to create a communications plan, look for ways to create one or two artefacts such as a FAQ document or an infographic.

Reward your small wins with a personal Kanban board so you can see what’s been accomplished. In our learning programs, we provide a Progress Tracker because we know that even small progress is extremely rewarding and motivating. It triggers happy neurons in our brains.

4. Ask around

Spread the word that you are looking to build your experience or need advice. Your Enterprise Social Network is a great digital village to communicate this. You may be surprised by the generosity of others and how it opens opportunities to connect with people with the expertise who can help you. In our work, we have created an online community for our learners to do just this!

5. Shadow and observe

We are hard wired to learn from others and through observation. Look for opportunities to shadow or observe a more experience team member in action. Better still, ask if you can help lighten the load. For example, if it’s an impact assessment workshop, ask if you can take notes or co-facilitate. 6. Attend a course

Not just any course! This may sound counter intuitive if it’s where you started in the first place. Look for a learning program that takes you on the journey from knowing to doing as part of its curriculum or delivery. This is a point of difference we offer in our own learning programs is that we integrate proven methods to help you apply theory and content to practice.

Be brave, be curious, experiment, connect and observe. And remember to reflect on your learnings and insights to identify what you might do differently next time.

For more information on our learning programs at the Agile Change Leadership Institute, head over to:


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