Great learning organizations excel at gathering and communicating data. These are critical steps to learning and development. Without them, it is impossible to grow and develop. Though these steps are important, there is a significant and pivotal understanding that must accompany the collection and reporting of any data:
The value of any information sits exclusively in what you do with it.
Without this understanding, it is also impossible to effectively develop as an organization. It’s really that simple. It is critical that, as an organizational leader, we consistently communicate that it is not the information itself, but the execution upon that information, that creates the difference. Without execution we simply become bloated with head knowledge. We turn into encyclopedias of industry knowledge as we slowly slip into apathy and irrelevance. It is execution – action – that wins in the end. Here are three keys to creating an organization that effectively executes on information:
1. Always ask “What Now”: This is a question organizational leaders should always be asking to move people, and themselves, consistently towards action. The question is , “what now”, or in other words, “in light of this information, what do we do”? The question implies something very simple, but quite critical to successful action upon any new learning. It implies that we cannot simply retain this new information and do nothing. It implies that new information requires action of some kind. The question moves our mindset from the “information gathering” mode into the “analytical processing mode”. It demands an opinion and forces us to to a decision point. Leaders should always walk away asking, “what now”, of themselves and people around them.
2. Create Accountability: The sustenance of inaction is lack of accountability. To drive action and execution on information, leaders need to create accountability to information. We need to a create a culture where “knowing” isn’t good enough. We must put value on what people do with the information they have. It’s to easy to present new findings and information to a leadership team or executive board and then simply end the meeting. We walk away thinking everyone learned something, when all that really happened is an increase in knowledge. Great learning organizations assign accountability for information. They define who is responsible for acting upon it and who will be held accountable for not only obtaining the knowledge, but using the knowledge. Accountability is the sustenance for development and learning.
3. Resist Information Paralysis: Most leaders have been here before – or maybe you are here right now. You have some piece of new information but putting action to it seems impossible. Maybe the action that this information requires seems too daunting, or maybe you feel like you just don’t have the right information or all of the information. This feeling of paralysis – this fear or movement – is dangerous. It keeps great leaders and great organizations from development. Wise leaders obtain insight and information before taking steps forward, but they never let lack of information keep them from any movement. Use what is available to you, but never let what isn’t available to you keep you from taking needed action. Sometimes you just need to take a step, even a small step, to get things going. Great learning organizations have a bias toward action and understand that great things can happen from even small steps forward. You don’t win a marathon in one giant leap. You win one step at a time, adjusting to the conditions as they come – constantly making decisions and then taking one more step. Resist the paralysis that can come from too much or too little information and have a bias toward action. Even if all you can take is one small step, keep moving forward.
The value of any knowledge comes in how we choose to use it – or how we choose to ignore it. Organizational leaders must continually remind themselves that it is execution that wins, not simply knowledge. Consistently challenge your organization with the question of “what now”. Create accountability to execution upon data and foster a bias toward action while always resisting information paralysis. These steps will help your organization become a successful learning organization.
Read all 10 Ten Disciplines of a Learning Organization here.