This question has been running around in my head for quite a while. A key factor in what’s happening in and to HR is that we now know what needs to be done for great strategy and results, but it isn’t being done – The Knowing-Doing Gap as Stanford Professors Pfeffer and Sutton insightfully called it in their HR book title more than 13 years ago.
Hence we have to ask whether executives can change, since they don’t seem to or at least not quickly.
The short answer is yes. Anyone can change when they decide to. It’s a matter of practice makes perfect and willingness to stumble a bit at first. Even the most arrogant can change if the conditions are right.
To be specific the key change we need for organizations to overcome the knowing-doing gap is for more senior executives to start leading by listening/coaching instead of the old telling/selling/controlling style. I was therefore happy to see a short video clip of Kevin Sharer, CEO of the major corporation Amgen, talking about this, sent out from the McKinsey Quarterly. The full article is worth the free sign-up if you haven’t registered before. It expands on the video and explains a bit more about why Sharer changed and how critical it is for executives to make the decision to do so.
I’m not sure I have a lot more to add except to say everyone needs to read and heed it. He certainly isn’t alone. In fact, he references the head of IBM as the source of his own insight, so there’s one more. More and more large company CEOs are arriving at this conclusion for the same reason Sharer cites – that failure to change to listening style means you’re likely to miss fatal signals in these rapidly changing economic times. He also alludes to the value of getting everyone contributing ideas, an equally critical reason.
The good news – we know what to do. The challenge – getting everyone doing it.