Urgency

The data is clear that the rate of change in the world is increasing exponentially. Numerous factors indicate that not only is the world moving more quickly, but that the rate of change may be the defining characteristic of the business world for the foreseeable future.

The toughest of the 8-Step Process for Leading Change and the most often overlooked is the process of increasing the urgency for the need for change. Urgency must be core to a successful organization and it must be sustained over time. It is critical to set the stage for making a challenging leap into some new direction. Urgency is becoming increasingly important because change is shifting from episodic to continuous. That means there is a constant need for an urgent focus on what is important.

True urgency focuses on critical issues. It is driven by the deep determination to win, not anxiety about losing. Many people confuse it with false urgency. This misguided sense of urgency does have energized action, but it has a frantic aspect to it with people driven by anxiety and fear. This dysfunctional orientation prevents people from exploiting opportunities and addressing real issues.

The worst thing for an organization is to step into complacency. In a fast moving and changing world, a sleepy or steadfast contentment with the status quo can create disaster – literally.

A big reason that a true sense of urgency is rare is that it’s not a natural state of affairs. It has to be created and recreated. In organizations that have survived for a significant period of time, complacency is more likely the norm. Even in organizations that are clearly experiencing serious problems, devastating problems, business-as-usual can survive. 

Or it can be replaced by hundreds of anxiety filled, unproductive activities that are mistaken for a real sense of urgency. And in organizations that handle episodic change well, with a big initiative every five years or so, you can still find a poor capacity to deal with continuous change because urgency tends to collapse after a few successes.


How to Recognize Episodic and Continuous Change

Episodic change requires urgency in spurts. The urgency must be there to sustain the sprint. Episodic change revolves around a single big issue such as:

  • Major restructuring
  • New product launch
  • Acquisition
  • IT integration
  • Growing revenue

Continuous change is a ceaseless flow of change. It's a marathon. Becoming adept at change must be an asset of the company to succeed for the long term.


How to Recognize Urgent Behavior

  • A "want-to" attitude
  • A gut-level determination to move, and win, now
  • People are alert and proactive, constantly looking for information relevant to success and survival
  • When faced with a problem, people search for effective ways to get the information to the right individual, now
  • People come to work each day ready to cooperate energetically

True urgency is not the product of historical successes or current failures but the result of people who provide the leadership needed to create it. A real sense of urgency is rare, much rarer than most people seem to think, yet it is invaluable in a world that will not stand still. 


How to Recognize Complacency

  • Are discussions inward focused and not about markets, emerging technology, competitors, etc.?
  • Is candor lacking in confronting bureaucracy and politics that are slowing things down?
  • Do people regularly blame others for problems instead of taking responsibility?
  • Are failures of the past discussed not to learn, but to stall new initiatives?
  • Are assignments around critical issues regularly not completed on time or with sufficient quality?
  • Do cynical jokes undermine important discussions?
  • Are highly selective facts used to shoot down data that suggests there is a big hazard or opportunity?
  • Do meetings on key issues end with no decisions about what must happen immediately (except the scheduling of the next meeting)?
  • Are critical issues delegated without the involvement of key people?
  • Does passive aggression exist around big issues?
  • Do people say, “we must act now”, but then don’t act?

How to Recognize False Urgency

  • Do people have trouble scheduling meetings on important initiatives
  • Because they are too busy?
  • Are critical issues delegated without the involvement of key people?
  • Do people spend long hours developing power points on almost anything?
  • Do people regularly blame others for problems instead of taking responsibility?
  • Are failures of the past discussed not to learn, but to stall new initiatives?
  • Are assignments around critical issues regularly not completed on time or with sufficient quality?
  • Are highly selective facts used to shoot down data that suggests there is a big hazard or opportunity?
  • 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?
  • Do people say, “we must act now,” but then don’t act?
  • Do cynical jokes undermine important discussions?
  • 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

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