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Getting from Here to There: The Know-Do Gap

First, a shout-out to HR industry expert David Ulrich for keeping the challenge of The Know-Do Gap front and center.

After decades of coaching executives and delivering executive and leadership education, we recognize that closing The Know-Do Gap is still a major challenge for learners. Repeatedly, we find ourselves working with people who know what they need to work on to fine-tune their effectiveness and impact, and the steps to get there.


Part of the task of a boss, coach, mentor, sponsor, TM Professional or orienteer is to help career-oriented candidates for future leadership roles finish their preparation by adding to and maximizing their KSA (Knowledge, Skills and Attributes) bank account. 

Many are called, yet only a fraction convert intent into action.

Again. borrowing from David Ulrich, here is “The WHAT Process” that would need to be followed for it all to work.

What’s So?

It all starts with self-awareness. It’s tricky. Self-assessment is notoriously less accurate than the collective view of others. There are two self-generated views:  Who I think I am and who I would like to be (an ego ideal).  And, there are two viewpoints of others: How we experience you today and who we think you need to be to flourish in the future. 

    The whole 360 process—multi-rater assessment, feedback and coaching– exists to align the four views, i.e. my perceived self is the same as how informed others perceived me and my ego ideal is the same as what others (with quality views) think I should strive to be.

    So What?

    There are two career goals: What I want to achieve (and how high in the organization) and what others would expect me to achieve. Again, alignment is the goal.  My current bank account of KSAs, while already impressive, may be short on what I need in the future to get to the aligned goal, which is end role exemplar performance. Along the way there will be some fixing, fine-tuning, and enhancement necessary.

    To What?

    A bigger and more senior role than now, perhaps one of the top management or leadership roles. Being a functional lead or a GM may be the goal. The pinnacle may mean moving into middle management or landing in the C-Suite. Each level and role on the career path has a sufficiently detailed set of KSA requirements to prepare for.

    Then What?

    An individual development plan (IDP), if executed, would be expected to lead to the required fixing, building, enhancement or fine-tuning of the KSAs necessary to flourish throughout the rest of one’s career. The IDP would include ways to stay ahead of the next set of requirements along the way. This is sound and strategic career navigation at its best.

    Now What?

    As Nike would say, “Just Do It!”  Intention alone isn’t sufficient. The development actions need to be supported by the Talent Management Village (we identify this expanded group in our succession planning materials). Many others can play a role.

    Many aspiring careerists get to the “now what.”  “I know what I want to achieve. I know what is required, and I know what I must work on to get there”.

    Fewer execute on their IDP(s).

    Force field analysis would show, and brain science confirms, that the pressures to stay the same are stronger than the incentives to change and grow. The brain has a built-in need to stay in the nest, within the box, inside the lines and it is more comfortable within the safety of certainty. Change, on the other hand, is uncertain, involves risk, takes effort, and is disruptive and unpredictable.

    What Careerists Do

    Careerists have a higher baseline of aspiration, which starts the momentum or motivation to change. And, the desire to change must be stronger than any innate urge to maintain the status quo.

    From a coaching perspective, there are several things that must be done:

    1. Build trust in the qualify of information in the 5-step process above.

    a. Trusted and credible people must contribute the ratings and feedback that help align the four aspects of self. To be in full possession of a true picture of self is rare, but essential, for effective and efficient leadership development. So, the Village has to deliver high-quality candid, and actionable feedback. Let the careerist select the 360 raters. Assign a coach, mentor, sponsor, and/or Talent Management Professional to help gather and deliver close-in feedback. Keep measuring alignment.

    b. Role requirement information must be credible and of high quality.  Success profiles must be science and reality-based for a careerist to take a chance.  Engage informed experts to create and keep updated success profiles.

      c. Invest in IDPs that, if executed, work. AI-driven developmental bots are helpful if they are science-based, experienced-tested, practitioner-vetted and thought leader-supported for content that appropriately advises and counsels. Match learning styles and preferred sources to each person.

      d. Engage the Village along the way.

      2. Build the motivation to act, to overcome the urge to be complacent.

      a. Construct the vision for getting there (and beyond).  If I get to the goal that I and others think I can get to, Then What?  What are the consequences of being there? Consider the income, self-esteem, pride, position of influence, degrees of financial freedom, and likely contributions to policies and decisions.  Use visioning exercises, rehearsals, and the views and experiences of others who made it to the status of an exemplary performer. The brain needs to “see it” and decide it is a better state in which to be.

      b. Educate the careerists in the science of personal change, to include the role of the brain when trying to keep things as they are. Provide elementary brain management techniques (mindfulness) to chill the need for safety, security, consistency, and stability.

      c. Sell the mindset of letting go of the past to fully engage in the future. What do I need to stop doing to make room for starting to do something else, and better?

      d. Celebrate growth, progress, and the success of turning intention into action.

      3. Continuosly build Learning Agility, the best method to build the KSA bank account for now and for the future.

      Haiku Summary

      Inaction persists,

       Intentions falter?

      Trust, guidance, change blooms.

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