Which is more important: Action or dialog?

We’ve all heard the saying that action speaks louder than words.  As a change practitioner in the culture and leadership arena it is often the goal to get people to act, and act differently than what they’ve grown accustomed to.  At Denison we believe in action that is both ‘informed’ and ‘thoughtful’.  What does that mean?

To begin, we rely on a suite of diagnostic tools and processes to target opportunities for change.  We establish an understanding of the current state of an organization, team or leader – using the Denison Model of High Performance as a critical lens.  That allows us to focus on leadership skills and organizational capabilities that have been shown to impact business performance.  Thus clients can make informed decisions regarding what needs to change and equally important, why.

We use that information to facilitate honest conversations.  While all of us wish and might even expect that our business conversations are always honest, deep down we know better.  There is a combination of organizational dynamics and politics that often result in a disconnect between what we think and what we say at work.  We are conscious of how we will be perceived, how we will be categorized (team player, trouble maker, antagonist, leader, etc.), who we share information with and who we don’t.  The filters are many and the prospects for something less than an honest discussion are pervasive.

Avoiding the easy way out.

As facilitators of honest conversations we have an opportunity and an obligation to approach discussions without the political dynamics and baggage that those within the organization are subject to.  When we are at our best we can observe, challenge, support, confront and elevate the discussions.  And one of the biggest challenges we face is that desire to move quickly from information to action.  There is an eagerness to bypass the honest conversations and promptly agree on an action – a silver bullet that quickly and easily solves our most serious problems.

Organizational culture and leadership are complex topics.  If there were a silver bullet that would give us a high-performing culture, we would know it by now.  The same is true of leadership.  There are nearly 200,000 books on Amazon alone regarding leadership.  There have been many more articles published.  Try to resist the allure of the easy answer.  Life in organizations is challenging and most breakthroughs occur when people solve problems together.

Honest conversations take hard work, but they pay off.

One of my favorite stories to tell is that of an executive team who was looking at culture data for the first time that showed that their organization was among the lowest when it came to Empowerment.  Within minutes of seeing the data a member of the team turned to the VP of HR and said ‘surely there must be a ½ day empowerment workshop we can send our people to’.  That was his version of the silver bullet.

My reaction in the moment was to say ‘that’s one option…but before we go there can we talk a bit about empowerment and what might be behind the results’.  Within 15 minutes issues of trust came rushing forward.  Concerns about skills, motivations and an ever-widening gap between leadership and the workforce were raised.  It did not require days of deliberation to come to the conclusion that a ½ day workshop was NOT what was needed, rather a multi-faceted approach to engaging the workforce and rebuilding of trust offered the best opportunity to close the gap.

Yes, actions often do speak louder than words.  But perhaps the frustration we experience when words are not acted upon is caused by a willingness to bypass honest conversations and quickly reach for the silver bullet.  Informed action is what is needed.  We believe that the success we have at Denison in helping leaders, teams and organizations change is based on a fundamental belief that data should first drive honest conversations that ultimately lead to thoughtful actions and improved performance.  Let us know if you and your organization are ready to talk.

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