Leading Blog






08.20.08

How to Develop and Maintain a Sense of Urgency

a sense of urgency

Leadership and change expert John Kotter finds that the number one problem organizations face when trying to execute change is creating a sense of urgency. Unfortunately, that is the first step in a series of actions needed to succeed in bringing about change.

In a time when the rate and type of change is increasing exponentially, organizations (and individuals) can not afford to get (or remain) complacent. In A Sense of Urgency, Kotter states that a true sense of urgency is rare mainly because “it is not the natural state of affairs. It has to be created and recreated.” More often than not, what passes as urgency is more likely a false urgency that he describes as the “unproductive flurry of behavior” built on “a platform of anxiety and anger.” True urgency is different. Is understood by the head (intellectually) but driven by the heart (emotions). It is externally focused and expressed in daily behaviors that move relentlessly toward the target, ever alert to changing conditions and weeding out superfluous activity.

Kotter offers four tactics to establish a sense of urgency in any environment:

First, bring the outside in. A “we know best” culture reduces urgency. “When people do not see external opportunities or hazards, complacency grows…. With an insufficient sense of urgency, people don’t tend to look hard enough or can’t seem to find the time to look hard enough. Or they look and do not believe their eyes, or do not wish to believe their eyes. Even if seen correctly, and in time, external change demands internal change.”

The second tactic is to behave with urgency every day. “Increasingly changing environments create a need for alertness and agility, which demands a sense of urgency that must be modeled by the boss all the time.” A few of the behaviors he details: purge and delegate, speak with passion, walk the talk.

Third, find opportunity in crises. A problem with a damage control mind-set is it often eliminates an opportunity. A properly leveraged crisis can be a valuable tool to break through complacency.

And fourth, deal with the NoNos – those people that are “always ready with ten reasons why the current situation is fine, why the problems and challenges others see don’t exist, or why you need more data before acting.”

A Sense of Urgency
Your greatest tool for maintaining urgency is the knowledge that “urgency leads to success leads to complacency.” Keeping up the urgency to stay the course to a long-term goal or to maintain a high level of performance in the face of short-term gains requires a conscious reworking of the four tactics again and again. “Acting Urgently is the tactic that creates results quickly. The other three tactics can all be started immediately, but will take time.”

Kotter provides many examples made helpful by his insight. He extracts tips and behaviors that will guide you in developing a culture of urgency in your organization (and life).

See also:
  Leading Change: Our Iceberg is Melting
  Video Interview with John Kotter on The Importance of Urgency

Posted by Michael McKinney at 05:34 PM
| Comments (0) | This post is about Change



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