The book “The Knowing-Doing Gap: How Smart Companies Turn Knowledge into Action,” by Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert I. Sutton thoroughly analyzes this phenomenon and shows the main reasons behind why it happens.

What is Said vs. What is Done

When you ask people about the importance of collaboration -- including the ability to collaborate seamlessly across all barriers within an enterprise --  most people would agree that it is key to success. They would also agree that it increases in importance as the business environment becomes more dynamic, unpredictable and competitive.

It is becoming increasingly common for top level executives to stress the importance of collaboration. According to the IBM CEO Study from 2012,

"Collaboration is the number one trait CEOs are seeking in their employees, with 75 percent of CEOs calling it critical … The emphasis on openness and collaboration is even higher among outperforming organizations.”

Despite findings like this, enterprise collaboration is often low on the CEO’s agenda, if on there at all. Something more urgent and business critical always seems to demand the executive's attention and the organization’s resources. The gap between what executives say and actually do couldn’t be bigger. To see the gap one just needs to take look at what they spend on enterprise collaboration related efforts as compared to what they spend on, say, compensation for top level executives.

In large part this knowing-doing gap can be blamed on two things: the short-term thinking that comes with maximizing shareholder value -- once called “the dumbest idea in the world” by Jack Welch, chairman and CEO of General Electric -- and faulty performance metrics. When trying to maximize shareholder value, executives are often forced to go against their better judgement, since investing in something that might take years to bear fruit might not look good in the eyes of impatient shareholders. When performance metrics don’t include collaboration metrics, there are no strong incentives to tear down organizational silos, eliminate destructive internal competition or strengthen enterprise collaboration capabilities.

Steps to Close the Knowing-Doing Gap

To address this knowing-doing gap and create the necessary conditions for improving enterprise collaboration, an organization needs to do the following five things:

1. Ensure top level executive commitment to improving enterprise collaboration

Enterprise collaboration is a basic capability that makes it easier for an organization to deal with other challenges and efforts. Top level executives must put it on the top of their agendas and show their true commitment to improve enterprise collaboration -- by taking action.

2. Develop a vision of a more collaborative enterprise

The vision should describe the desired future state and explain how enterprise collaboration will help the business and allow people to get things done. The vision should guide all decisions related to enterprise collaboration and should be repeatedly communicated so that everyone knows it by heart.

3. Establish a cross-functional governance board

All major decisions related to enterprise collaboration, as well as the follow up of the execution of enterprise collaboration initiatives, should be done in a governance board where all major business functions are represented by their leaders. This ensures alignment across the enterprise and avoids sub-optimization.

Learning Opportunities

4. Start measuring collaborative performance

We all know that most people do what they are measured on. Collaboration performance should therefore be part of the performance system -- from the grassroots employees to the CEO.

5. Establish an enterprise collaboration competence center

All business units won't have enough resources, skills or support to improve how they collaborate on their own, or to do it in a way that ensures they will can collaborate with other business units or organizations. Establishing a shared competence center can solve this, by providing all business units the required resources, methodology, skills and support to improve collaboration in the right way.

Does this sound like a daunting, almost impossible thing to do within your organization? Then your organization probably underestimates the importance of collaboration on how it performs. In 2006, Frost & Sullivan developed a Collaboration Index, measuring how collaborative an organization is and how it impacts the organization’s overall performance. They found that 36 percent of a company’s performance was due to how well it collaborated, and that collaboration had the most impact on customer satisfaction. Another study, conducted by Future Foundation in 2010 on behalf of Google, found an 81 percent correlation between collaboration and innovation.

If we look at how the business environment has changed since 2006, things haven’t exactly evolved in a direction where collaboration, innovation or customer satisfaction are becoming less important. Let’s just say there is every reason for your organization to act to close the knowing-doing gap in enterprise collaboration, and to start working on it now. To quote Mark Twain, “The secret of getting ahead is getting started."

Title image by Dimitry Zimin (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: Read why Oscar thinks that 2014 will be the Enterprise Collaboration Tipping Point