Business Transformation

6 Top Tips for Closing Say Do Gaps

Louise Perkins, Partner – Broadleaf Global

Closing say-do gaps: A say-do gap is the difference between what we say and what we do. They are everywhere and exist for all of us. So what’s the big deal you might be thinking? The issue with say-do gaps is very simple. They erode trust. If someone says one thing and does another, the net result is that people won’t trust what they say.

The trust won’t disappear overnight, but each time a say-do gap is experienced, it chips away at how authentic people think an individual or the organisation is, and how much they can be trusted.

‍How many times have you heard organisations say, “our people are our biggest asset” and then behave in ways that demonstrate this isn’t the case? When say-do gaps are alive and well in organisations, they can take on a life of their own and, rather than being attributed to an individual, they simply become “the way things work around here”. The deeper they are embedded into the fabric of the organisation, the harder they can be to shift.

‍Here’s an example to illustrate what I mean. XYZ Corporation wants to get back to the ‘good old days’ when people were engaged, productive and working at the company felt like being part of a family. By definition, there was trust and authenticity. Differences of opinion were handled in an adult way, and it seemed as if most people were pulling towards a common goal, rather than playing politics.

‍With XYZ Corporation’s success came growth, lots of new people and a noticeable shift in culture. With that shift, a downward trend in quality, customer feedback and staff turnover occurred. To the leadership team, it feels like they woke up one day, and the organisation had shifted. It has of course, been coming on for some time.

So what’s going on?

When organisations are relatively small, being alive to say-do gaps is easier. Feedback and reflections from those at the top of the organisation are far more likely to mirror what’s actually going on the shop floor. With rapid growth, the connections between what we say and what we do get put under pressure and need more focus than ever before.

It is so common for organisations to rely on the culture they have built and expect it to still be there in a few years time. Without paying close attention, it is astonishing how fast a say-do gap will open up.

Six top tips for closing say-do gaps

So if we accept that say-do gaps exist, that they can undermine trust in an organisation, a team or an individual, the question is: how do we close say do gaps?

  1. Get some feedback
    ‍Sometimes we are blind to say-do gaps, particularly if we are close to them. Getting a fresh pair of eyes onto the situation will always serve you well. It might not feel all that pleasant to hear about our lack of authenticity, but it’s a crucial first step. Remember, feedback is someone’s point of view and is best served without judgement and full of curiosity, so get a variety of opinions.
  2. Reflect honestly
    Some of your say-do gaps you may be aware of. We can have a tendency to tell people what they want to hear and to shy away from a challenge, both of which can give rise to say-do gaps. Having a healthy level of self-awareness is never a bad thing, and will serve you well when you’re seeking to close your say-do gaps.
  3. Start with you and expand from there
    When the say-do gap applies to a team or organisation, it is tempting to push it away from you, making it someone else’s issue to solve. However, by reflecting honestly and utilising your feedback, you will be able to identify personal actions you can take to close the say-do gap as it manifests for you. You will be able to speak in a compelling and authentic way about the say-do gap and what you have done differently. This isn’t about judgement, but about leading by example and being accountable for our actions.
  4. Give it focus
    Say-do gaps can open up when we rest on our cultural laurels. By giving the trends revealed by your self-reflection and feedback from others your full focus, you’ll be able to make real progress with closing say-do gaps. Holding yourself and others accountable for making the behavioural shifts needed to close say-do gaps is crucial, approaching it from the point of view of curiosity rather than judgement.
  5. Tell the story
    Being honest about the say-do gaps that exist in the team or organisation will give others a chance to have their voice heard. It will also make people feel relieved that they’re not the only ones experiencing these things and is a powerful way of getting people on the same page.
  6. Commit to manageable changes
    It’s not a race, it’s possible to make an impact with adjustments to our ways of working and looking at how our collective behaviours and attitudes are contributing.

Written by Louise Perkins, Partner – Broadleaf Global Ltd.
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Louise Perkins
Louise Perkins, Partner – Broadleaf Global. Louise believes that, within each of us, we have everything we need and more to get wherever it is we want to go. She is energised by this belief and it informs her approach to the work that we do with our clients. Louise is a facilitator, designer of experiences, builder of resources, writer, coach and NLP practitioner.


Louise Perkins is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. Connect with her through LinkedIn.