I know you’re busy, but are you busy actually doing the work, or talking about the work?

For many years I’ve been involved in the wrangling work of shifting organisation culture towards a faster more agile environment.

Sometimes it feels like herding cats.

Lasting change takes time and leadership but frequently progress can be a mirage.

Days are filled up, steps are taken, conversations are had. So many conversations.

A couple of years ago I met with a fellow digital leader that was at the time working at one of Australia’s best known Scaleups. Her previous experience included a senior role at one of Australia’s largest and oldest companies.

I was intrigued at how the younger organisation operated, so asked her to describe the differences in culture and pace between the organisations.

I wan’t sure what answer I should expect.

I have asked some version of this question many times over the years and more often than not I get a wishy washy answer that I can’t do anything with. But I keep asking, as every now and then I get gold. An answer that adds to my knowledge base and further exposes the levers for changing culture.

She took a moment to think about it.

Her response had more cut through than any I have heard before or since.

She said: At XYZ Co I would spend 80% of my days TALKING about the work. At ABC Co, I spend 80% of my days DOING the work.

Conversations are essential, and they do help us make progress.

They also help engage people in the organisation’s vision and strategy, and smooth the way for faster action.

But at some point, we have bought into the myth that conversations = progress in their own right.

Another former colleague of mine now works for one of the world’s largest Technology companies. Used to being consulted on everything in her prior organisation, it was a big shift to move to an organisation where trust is implicit in roles and responsibilities.

In her new organisation she found the level of consultation to be far below what she had previously experienced. This organisation has no way of achieving the speed and scale it does without staff trusting each other to expertly deliver on their responsibilities.

Her first perception on making the move, is how much more productive everyone was. And how much clearer it was who was delivering on their responsibilities and who wasn’t.

It seems to me that too often we consult as a proxy for a lack of trust.

This is frequently driven by a lack of clarity on roles and responsibilities. Further leading to confusion on what really contributes to progress, and what is just talk.

So my question for you is: How much time this week have you spent “talking about the work”, and how much time “doing the work”?

How can you provide more clarity to your team on roles and responsibilities and help shift the dial from talking about the work, towards doing the work?