Why Smart Companies Fail to Turn Knowledge into Action

Developing, integrating, managing, and measuring a social media program provides heavily compartmentalized companies with the potential for enhanced collaboration, increased departmental efficiency, cost reductions, and of course, business growth. While many companies know this, very few are actually doing it (with the exception of such notable mentions as Starbucks, Zappos, and Ford). So why are there so few “smart” companies capable of turning such knowledge into action?

According to Jeffrey Pfeffer and Bob Sutton’s book, The Knowing-Doing Gap, there are several reasons as to why companies fail to transform their accumulation of knowledge into actionable results.  Knowing “what” to do is simply not enough: when companies find that talk substitutes for action, or when memory serves as a substitute for thinking, it’s likely that very little progressive action is taking place. 

Other inhibitors to progress can be found by taking a deeper look into a company’s culture. Is fear prevalent? If so, fear may prevent individuals from taking action that leads to necessary growth and development. Are measurement systems aligned with company goals? If not, then behavior can take place based on incentives as opposed to generating the type of action that satisfies the needs of the company. Finally, is internal competition present? If so, keep in mind that internal competition can work against organizational progress by promoting self-interest as opposed to teamwork, or by leading to decisions being made on behalf of what’s best for the indivual as opposed to the company at large.

It is true that knowing what to do and doing what one should do are in fact two different things. It is not uncommon to find managers who know so much about organizational performance, say so many smart things, and work so hard remain in the types of firms that do the very things to undermine performance. Part of the reason for this is that companies are dynamic and living/breathing organisms made up of many complex and interdependent systems; navigating this terrain can difficult.

In the below video, Sutton discusses some of the key reasons why companies fail to turn knowledge into action, as well as how managers can best foster a culture of innovation within their organizations:

By building an environment that focuses on trust, collaboration, and risk-taking, creativity can flourish and marketing can prosper. Companies that act on their knowledge eliminate fear, abolish destructive internal competition, measure what matters, and promote leaders who understand the work people do in their firms.

Here are seven ways marketing managers can help transform their knowledge into actionable results for their company:

  1. Get or stay involved in the work process
  2. Reduce ambiguity; stay focused on goals
  3. Create/re-write measurement systems that are properly aligned with goals
  4. Eliminate sacred cows
  5. Build an environment conducive to information sharing; be transparent
  6. Drive out fear
  7. Foster and sustain an environment based on teamwork; incentivize accordingly

Embracing a holistic approach to business, such as through the adoption of a social media program, recognizes the breadth of organizational complexities and interdepencies by capitalizing on this truth.

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