Have you noticed that the people who make things happen in this world value and share the same sense of urgency?
As a consultant who has been stepping in and out of dozens companies in around 20 countries since the 1990's, I have been fortunate enough to witness a broad array of organisational cultures and learn a great deal from the great people I have met along the way. Such exposure has also allowed me to observe the good, the bad and the ugly behaviours that contribute to a company's fortune or mis-fortune.
One of the most saddening observations has been the lack of a sense of urgency among some people that firms choose to rely upon to contribute to their transformation. Sometimes this is due to the fact that these folk have only lived in an operational mode, and stepping into a delivery mode is an alien concept that they need to step up to, if they really want to be successful there. But on times even delivery professionals can demonstrate consistent complacency and a lack of any real sense of urgency.
According to Gallup’s 2013 State of the American Workplace report, only 30% of employees are actively committed to doing a good job. 50% of employees merely put their time in, while the remaining 20% act out their discontent in counterproductive ways, negatively influencing their coworkers, missing days on the job, and driving customers away through poor service. Lack of commitment in a transformation programme creates undesirable risk from the outset, so it is vital to address it and not allow it to fester like a fungus.
In his book, “A Sense of Urgency” John Kotter explained 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.” So the task of leading a team of people in a transformation at any level will often require an ability to create an atmosphere of urgency that can be embraced and in turn bring about an atmosphere of achievement.
Regardless of what people aim to achieve, those who set themselves apart from the rest maintain a sense of urgency in order to be the best they can be. They choose not to disconnect from what they are aiming to achieve. They pursue it, regardless of what anyone else thinks or says, because their sense of urgency is embedded within them.
But not everyone is that way inclined, and the Gallup poll mentioned above suggests that the majority is not, which means that managers and leaders have their work cut out to encourage and motivate others to adopt a sense of urgency, because without it, mediocrity prevails and mediocrity is not the stuff that successful transformation is made of.
People who struggle to work independently with a sense of urgency need support from others. Support to help them feel accountable and committed to achieving their goals, which in turn ignites a sense of urgency in their work.
In John Kotter's eight-step process for leading change, step one is about creating a sense of urgency by helping others feel a gut-level determination to move and win – now. Read it here.
Also read the excellent article Blue Ocean Leadership from Harvard Business Review.