Start Your Actions!

This article is dedicated to all those people who make things happen.  I salute you!

I always tell my students that 75% of companies worldwide fail because they do not execute strategy.  Statistics that I have come across bear me out.  Part of the problem is that developing a strategy concept is the interesting part, the intellectual part, and the sexy part.  Crossing the I’s and dotting the T’s however, are the most difficult part of strategic management.  This is so important that I would like to use this article to share a few thoughts on the concept of doing.

I was in Exclusive Books on Saturday morning.  As my wife was with me, I had the necessary permission to dwell in the shop and even buy a book!  Which I subsequently did.  The title?  “A Sprat to Catch a Mackerel” by Raymond Ackerman, with Pippa de Bruyn and Suzanne Ackerman.  The book is about key principles to build your business.  Definitely worth buying.  Not only is Raymond the doyen of retailers in South Africa, he has put his money where his mouth is and has built one of the top food retail companies in South Africa.  When he says that wall is white, he did not read it was white, but actually helped to paint it white, hence his knowledge of the wall being white!

One of the principles to jump out and grab me by the throat as I paged the book wondering whether to buy it or not, was “It’s not what you know, but what you do!”  This is so important.  In my previous blog article, “Empowerment is not for Sissies” (, I made the point that one cannot go directly from knowledge to behaviour.  For me, this principle of Raymond is a crucial one.  You could know exactly what to do, but if you did not do it, nothing would happen and your organization would become part of the 75% statistic.  And doing it requires more than just knowing.  To do, and to do what is required according to the situation, requires the ability and willingness to change your thinking patterns and yourself.  You need to change your worldview and paradigms.  You need to change the worldviews and paradigms of your people!  But the point remains, although knowledge is required, it is by itself not sufficient.

Another author who has made this point very clear is Seth Godin.  In his book, “Linchpin,” Godin makes a similar point.  You need to “ship it!”  Talking about it means nothing.  Knowing about it means nothing.  If you do not get to the point of doing – of shipping, it is all meaningless.  He talks about being an artist, which entails giving something of yourself, of your own creation, and in the process adding value to others.  This requires more than knowing.  It requires doing. It requires creating!

In his book, “Crush It!”, Gary Vaynerchuk describes 3 rules according to which he lives:

  • Love your family
  • Work superhard
  • Live your passion

It is clear that all 3 rules are about doing, and not just knowing.

Robert E Quinn, the author of books such as “Deep Change” and “Diagnosing and Changing Organizational Culture,” also wrote “Building the Bridge as You Walk On it.”  In this book he refers to the concept of “The Fundamental State of Leadership.”  He states the following:

“We are a new signal to which others must respond.  In this sense, we become creators of a new order.  We become a stimulant of positive organizing or the emergence of a more productive community.”

In this extract it is clear that action is a prerequisite.  We create, and stimulate the rise of a new order.  Without a verb, the extract becomes meaningless.  The book describes the practices that help us enter the fundamental state of leadership.  They are as follows:

  • Other-Focused: I am transcending my ego, putting the common good and welfare of others first, increasing in authenticity and transparency, nurturing trust, and enriching the levels of connectivity in my networks.
  • Externally Open: I am moving outside my comfort zone, experimenting, seeking real feedback, adapting, and reaching exponentially higher levels of discovery, awareness, competence, and vision.
  • Internally Directed: I am continually examining my hypocrisy and closing the gaps between my values and my behaviour.  I am reaching higher levels of personal security and confidence.
  • Purpose-Centred: I am clarifying what result I want to create.  I am committed and engaged, full of energy and holding an unwavering standard as I pursue a meaningful task.

Without doing, none of these practices will become relevant and reach fruition.  It is not what you know, but what you do!

Christo Nel’s VISA model that I have described in earlier articles also reflect upon the need for action.  The vision and ideal future is personified by the Vision element.  The people side of things are represented by the Interdependence element.  The structure and processes are represented by the Structure element.  And then, very importantly, the doing side of things are represented by the Action element of the VISA model.  While it is true that the first 3 elements need to be addressed in any system, if the action element is absent you are going nowhere at a rare rate of knots!

Otto Scharmer, the developer of the powerful Theory U, describes the 7 Phases of the Theory U as 7 verbs.  Action is absolutely inherent in the whole premise of the model.

  • Downloading patterns of the past.  What has happened in the macro and industry environment, as well as in the company?  What are the trends?
  • Seeing with fresh eyes.  Understand the company as a system from the systemic whole.
  • Sensing from the field.  Understanding from within – understand from a deeply grounded position.

These first 3 phases are about transforming observation.

  • Presencing – connecting to the Source.  Transforming the self!  Letting the old self go and let the new self develop!  Here you need to connect to the Self deep within yourself.  It requires emotional and spiritual intelligence.  Knowledge and doing!

This 4th phase is about transforming the self.

  • Crystallizing – vision and intention.  Develop the idealized future!  Create the ideal future!
  • Prototyping – co-create strategic microcosms.  Do this in small subsystems and learn as you grow and develop.  Learn from your mistakes and your successes!  Become a learning organization.  Know and act!
  • Performing – achieve results through practices and infrastructures.  Institutionalise the prototype success in the rest of the organization.

The last 3 phases is about transforming action.

Without the verb, without doing, especially the last 3 phases, nothing will happen.  You will know, but that is where it will end.  Moving into the “doing” phases will convert “knowing” into meaningful results.  You need Christo’s Action.

Lastly I would like to highlight the 7 organizational types as developed by Neilson and Pasternack in the book, “Results.”  These different types of organization show upon different kinds of doing.  It is not just sufficient to do, as doing for the sake of doing can be extremely counterproductive.  It all reflects that organizations are multi-dimensional wholes where the different forces at play need to be aligned with one another.

  • Passive-Aggressive – “Everyone agrees, but nothing changes”: Building consensus to make major changes is not a problem, but implementing those changes is next to impossible!  Quinn refers to an “apathetic organization.”  Implementation is a pipe-dream.  They might know, but nothing gets done!
  • Fits-and-Starts – “Let 1000 flowers bloom”: According to Quinn, this organization lures smart people with an entrepreneurial bent. However, due to an absence of strong direction from the top, and an absence of a solid set of values from below, it leads to the initiatives that do take place, to either clash and burn, or just peter out.  Implementation or action is not sustainable!  Rest assured, those smart entrepreneurs will move on, sooner rather than later!  Action then becomes even less sustainable!
  • Outgrown – “The good old days meet a brave new world”: In this organization the power is held strongly at the top, which leads to a slow reaction to market developments.  People in middle management find it very difficult to do something about ideas that they do see in the market.  My view is that results-oriented people will not stay too long in organizations such as these.  Action and implementation is a problem.  The leaving of the results-oriented people makes longevity an even bigger problem.
  • Overmanaged – “We’re from corporate, and we’re here to help”:  Managers spend more time checking subordinates’ work than scanning the horizon for new opportunities or threats.  This phenomenon frustrates self-starters and results-oriented individuals.  My view is that this will lead them to move on, leaving the organization even worse off than before!  It becomes a vicious cycle.  No sustainable action!
  • Just-in-Time – “Succeeding by the skin of our teeth”:  These organizations can react very quickly and change direction without losing sight of the big picture.  They can inspire creative outbursts, but also burn out their best managers.  Long-term sustainable success can then become a problem.
  • Military Precision – “Flying in formation”:  Everyone knows his role and implements it diligently.  The organization has a highly controlled management model – it can develop and implement brilliant strategies, but it is not as good to deal with unexpected events.  My view is that this type is problematic as the best plans seldom survive first contact with the customer and competitor!
  • Resilient – “As good as it gets”: This organization inspires awe and envy.  They are flexible, forward looking and fun.  Being resilient, they bounce back when they hit bumps in the road, having learnt from the experience.  They are the healthiest of all the profiles because they do not believe their own press and rather scan the horizon for the next competitive battle and /or market innovation.  For more about resilience, read my article “Can you bounce back?” at

While most of these types are doers, most of those are not productive doers.  So, in a certain sense I am adjusting what I have said earlier.  We need to not only act, but we need to ensure that our actions are healthy and aligned with the needs and requirements of the environment, both macro and industry.  In addition, we need to ensure that we take all the different dimensions of a system, such as the psychological, cultural, economic, political, technological, and ecological dimensions, into consideration when we design our interventions or actions.

Quinn’s Fundamental State of Leadership will obviously play a role in helping the non-producing or non-performing types of organizations described above.  So will understanding and implementing a worldview based on Scharmer’s Theory U!

So, in conclusion, knowing is required but not sufficient.  It is not doing that is required and essential – it is the right kind of action that is essential.  You need to understand and get to grips with the work of people such as Quinn, Godin, Vaynerchuk, Ackerman, and Neilson and Pasternack.  There are many more.  Study them – yes.  But make the principles a part of your practical approach to doing.

How do we then go about to develop an action orientation?  By doing the following:

  • Develop the action element of your VISA leadership profile.
  • Ensure that your leadership team has people who have a strong action orientation.
  • Plan for implementation as part of the strategic planning process.  Use the Balanced Scorecard if you must.
  • Develop an organizational culture where Doing is an integral part of the larger culture.
  • Develop  recruitment policies where people with an action orientation are recruited and appointed at all levels within your company
  • Develop organizational development interventions where employees are taken through a process to move from Knowing into Thinking differently, then into Being differently, and finally into Doing!
  • Remember that Doing has a number of different dimensions, such as the psychological dimension (motivation and actualization), the cultural dimension (the way we do things here), the economic dimension (production and sales), and the political dimension (how do we deal with power and influence).  Plan your actions incorporating these different dimensions.
  • Develop a performance management system where people are held accountable, and are rewarded appropriately

It is not that I do, therefore I am.  It is because I do the right things, that I therefore am!

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5 Responses

  1. Herman Rademeyer says:

    Hi Johan
    Hope you are doing well and are getting into holiday season?
    Thanks for a good read again.
    Shared with teams ,very appropriate message for us at Coke before the start of big selling season.

    You can sit and talk about it for 11 months but then you have to get up and do it or as you say “ship it”
    Kind Regards
    Herman Rademeyer
    Have a Coke day!!!

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