Knowing Is Not Enough; You Must Take Action

Knowing Is Not Enough; You Must Take Action

When I was growing up, my Dad worked for US Steel, where safety was always a key issue. In fact, my Dad’s annual bonus was conditioned on the annual safety record of the plant he managed. 

On occasion, I’d visit Dad at his office. There, I saw yellow signs and stickers all over the place that read: “Knowing’s not enough.”  As a kid I used to wonder, what the heck does that mean…“Knowing’s not enough?”

Steel mills evoke images of strenuous, hot, and dangerous work. But, it’s not enough to know that a work place is dangerous. Your every day behavior must reflect your awareness of that deadly danger too.  Mammoth machinery and molten metal can be hazardous, unless safety procedures are rigidly observed. Hard hats, safety shoes, protective eyeglasses, earplugs, and fire retardant clothing are a requirement in steel mill production areas.

It’s The Doing That Counts

So knowing is absolutely not enough. It’s the “doing” that counts. To keep accidents to a minimum everyone must wear safety equipment and follow safety rules, every minute of every day. Getting the entire team to behave in a way that keeps it productive, and safe from harm, so each member can return home to his or her family is an important job of plant leadership.

It occurred to me quite recently that this idea of “Knowing’s not enough” is a universal truth in business. For instance, executing strategy is the doing all the things that you must do to make your company succeed.

Here’s a critical question: Do your people, from your top management to your working-level people, know how to execute your strategy? It’s easy for everyone working in a steel mill to understand the need for safety, even so, accidents happen. Your senior staff may be able to recite your strategy, but do they know what to do, how to do it…and are they taking the actions necessary to do it? Do they enlist their people in the strategy every day?

What if you’re trying a new strategy? What if you’re trying to launch a new product Line and cross-sell into existing accounts? Or trying to identify your greatest supply chain risks to avoid predictable loss? Are your people doing what they need to do?

Time and time again, strategic implementations fail.  And when they do, it’s because somewhere in the organization, people aren’t delivering on crucial tasks. They may “know” what is to be done, but they’re not doing it. Someone may have told them. There may have been a lot of heads nodding up and down. But deep down inside, they really don’t know how or why their job supports the strategy and they’re not motivated to take action.

The tactics they’ve been called on to execute don’t compute, and don’t translate into what they’re supposed to do between 8 and 5 (or burn the midnight oil to get the job done).  So everyone proceeds full speed ahead with business as usual –whatever that means to him or her. And the strategy sputters out and dies.

Implementing a strategy, whatever strategy you choose, requires the right culture, the right structures, the right systems, and the right processes. But most of all leadership focused at every level of the organization, committed to the daily work it takes to make the strategy happen.

It’s not about having the best ideas. It’s about executing ideaseven mundane ideas—like hard hats, safety shoes, protective glasses, earplugs, and protective clothing…but making sure they get executed without fail.

At the end of the day, it’s not about what you know; it’s about what you do and how you behave on a daily basis.

Don’t tell me you know – show me you know.  Because “knowing is not enough.”