False Urgency

Every act of creation is first of all an act of destruction.
                                                               - Picasso

Far too often, managers are satisfied when they see lots of energetic activity: people running from meeting to meeting, preparing endless presentations, meetings with agendas containing long lists of activities. More often than not, this flurry of behavior is driven by pressures that create anxiety. The resulting frantic activity is more distracting than useful. This is a false sense of urgency. It can be even more destructive than complacency because it drains precious energy spent in circular activity — energy that should be directed toward productivity.

Since people often mistake this running-around for a real sense of urgency, many times they actually try to create it. The frustrated boss screams, “Execute!” His employees scramble: sprinting, meeting, task-forcing, e-mailing — all of which creates a howling wind of activity. But that’s all it is, a howling wind or, worse yet, a tornado that destroys much and builds nothing.

Answering "Yes" to any of these questions may indicate a state of False Urgency:

  • Do people postpone scheduling meetings on important initiatives because they are too busy?
  • Do people spend long hours developing presentations for every initiative?
  • Do people regularly blame others for problems instead of taking responsibility?
  • Are new initiatives stalled because of fear of past failures?
  • Are assignments around critical issues regularly not completed on time or with sufficient quality?
  • Do meetings on key issues end with no decisions about what must happen immediately (except the scheduling of the next meeting)?
  • Does passive aggression exist around big issues?
  • Are new approaches to new problems undertaken every week?
  • Are people motivated by a sense of fear and anxiety?
  • Do people run from meeting to meeting exhausting themselves and rarely focusing on the most critical hazards or opportunities?

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Books by Dr. John Kotter

A Sense of Urgency is a powerful tool for anyone wanting to win in a turbulent world that will only continue to move faster. Management control systems and damage control experts serve a critical purpose. But don't let that blind you to an increasingly important reality. Controls can support complacency in an era when complacency can be deadly. Handled properly—and we know the rules for proper handling a crisis can offer an opportunity to increase needed urgency, an opportunity that cannot be disregarded.

Find a retailer here to purchase A Sense of Urgency