Bossidy and Charan (2002) call this ‘the gap nobody knows about’ – the gap between promises and results, the gap of execution. Defining execution as a systematic way of exposing reality and acting on it, the authors argue that most people do not face reality very well, hence they cannot execute. Further, they argue that the heart of execution lies in three processes: people, strategy, and operations. However, most organizations face several underlying problems: lack of commitment, lack of accountability, and a preoccupation with what they perceive as ‘real work’. McChesney, Covey and Huling (2012) came to very similar conclusions years later. McChesney, et al (2012) referring to over seven years of research with over 1500 organizations, present what they found to be the leading enemies of execution.
- Lack of clarity of the goal or objective
- Lack of commitment to the goal
- Lack of accountability
These were the common ones, but the real problem, they argue, lay hidden in plain sight. This was the demands from daily routine which they call the whirlwind. The whirlwind of daily activity robs one the ability to focus on new activity needed to achieve new goals. This is because the whirlwind involves urgency while the new goals and activities involve importance. When urgency clashes with importance, urgency always wins.
These findings have near-revolutionary implications for coaching as discussed below. Indeed, this writer argues that it is only coaching as a discipline that offers a substantive solution to the knowing-doing problem.
AIDING EXECUTION THROUGH COACHING
Peel (2005) says research validates the assertion that learning takes place when goals are set, action is taken, and constructive review of those actions are carried out. In other words, when people know exactly what is expected of them, they take action to realize desired results, and they are held accountable for their actions, then learning happens. In this case it could be argued that learning has not really happened unless it leads to a change in behavior. This change of behavior is evidenced by the actions taken and the results achieved.
Coaching focuses on helping the client become more aware of himself or herself and the view they hold on the situation at hand. This awareness helps in developing clarity which then leads to identification of solutions and the attendant actions. The coach then helps to enthuse the client to more keenly desire to get to the desired result, thereby building commitment to the defined result. Thereafter the coach facilitates accountability for action and results. It follows that the process of coaching, indeed more than any other management discipline, lends itself well to curing the problem of non-execution with individuals. Given that individuals make up organizations, and that individuals in organizations are the ones that execute, it means if coaching is applied to an organization, this would enhance organizational execution as well.
It is, however, critical, that the coach is aware of the underlying default tendency, and the danger it poses to moving the client forward. The tendency to revert back to status quo and lose sight of intended goal and actions due to the pressure of ‘normal work’ is real. In addressing this challenge, the coach must help the client beware of this tendency and, together with the client, articulate a strategy to mitigate against it. As McChesney, et al (2012) suggest, the solution may lie in their four disciplines, namely: focusing on the wildly important, working with lead measures, keeping a scorecard, and facilitating accountability. The coach could therefore help the client establish priorities, articulate how he or she will keep track of progress, set some milestones, and agree on terms of accountability. In this way, the coach gets the client on a firm path towards execution.
Coaching is a nascent discipline. It needs to prove itself in the market and this can only be done through delivery of results. In delivering results, coaches ought to be aware of the real challenge that the knowing-doing gap presents. However, it is in this challenge that lay the opportunity for coaching in that, while other disciplines have no clear way of dealing with the challenge, the very design of the coaching process renders itself as a direct solution to inaction. However, it is the default tendency to be lost in the ‘whirlwind’ that coach must actively address in order to ensure victory over the knowing-doing challenge.
Bossidy, L and Charan, R (2002). Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done. London: Random House Business Books.
Eric Parsloe (1999). The Manager as Coach and Mentor (2nd Ed.). London: CIPD Publishing.
Grant, A. M. (1999). Enhancing performance through coaching: The promise of CBT. Paper presented at the First State Conference of the Australian Association of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (NSW).
International Coach Federation (2012). 2012 ICF Global Coaching Study. www.coachfederation.org.
McChesney,C, Covey,S and Huling,J (2012). The 4 Disciplines of Execution: Achieving Your Wildly Important Goals. NewYork, NY: Free Press
Peel, D, (2005). The Significance of Behavioral Learning Theory to the Development of Effective Coaching Practice. International Journal of Evidence Based Coaching & Mentoring. Volume 3, Number 1, P18.
Pfeffer, J and Sutton, R.I. (2000). The Knowing-Doing Gap: How Smart Companies Turn Knowledge Into Action. Boston: Harvard Business School Press