In today’s business startup environment, if you don’t move fast, you get run over. Without a sense of urgency, people and businesses just can’t move fast enough. Speed is the driver because customers have a zero tolerance for waiting, and there are always competitors gaining on you.
John P. Kotter, in “A Sense of Urgency,” delves into the how-to required of entrepreneurs on that first step, avoiding pitfalls along the way. He is convinced that increasing the sense of urgency is the toughest of the steps necessary for effective change.
Urgency is not frantic activity born of excess energy, anger, or frustration. These do result in high activity levels, but results will be slow in coming and often misdirected. Here are six more positive steps to increasing a true sense of urgency, according to Kotter:
1. Behave with urgency every day. Always demonstrate your own sense of urgency in meetings, interactions, memos and e-mail, and do so as visibly as possible to as many people as possible. You are the role model for everyone in your organization. If your tone or actions lack urgency, it percolates quickly to everyone, and you reap what you sow.
2. Consistently communicate urgency. Urgency is a set of thoughts and feelings, as well as a compulsive determination to move and win now. Aim for the heart, not just the mind. Look for the element of every story that will compel employees into action. Make employees feel empowered, not stressed, to buy into the need for urgency.
3. Create action that is relentlessly aimed at winning. Make sure your actions are exceptionally alert, and focused on success. Show some progress each and every day, and constantly purge low value-added activities. Be quick to reward the winning actions of everyone on the team.
4. Bring the outside in. Be on the lookout for compelling data, people, video, websites and other important messages from outside the company. Strive to connect internal activity with external happenings and challenges. Highlight competitor wins in the marketplace, and continually challenge your own team to do better than competitors.
5. Find opportunity in crisis. Always be alert to see if crises can be a friend, not just an enemy, in order to destroy complacency. Think of crises as potential opportunities, and not only dreadful problems that automatically must be delegated to the damage control specialists. But don’t assume that crises inevitably will create the sense of urgency needed to perform better.
6. Deal with the urgency-killers. Remove or neutralize all the relentless urgency-killers, people who are not skeptics but by their actions keep a group complacent or create destructive urgency. Examples are people who are always “too busy” or stretch every task delivery beyond reasonable limits.
One of the main obstacles to a sense of urgency is complacency, which often sets in after a success. When the CEOs and employees are riding high on a wave of profits, complacency can creep in unnoticed. It’s easy to hand out rewards and praises without looking down the road and outside the box. Eventually a competitor comes along to trample you into the dust.
Another frequent obstacle is the false sense of urgency. The enemy of urgency is a full appointment calendar, when everything becomes urgent. Here you need flexibility, smarts, and guts to reprioritize less important tasks, or purge them altogether.
Finally, eliminate fear, both fear of failure and fear of success. Fear thrives in an environment where people get punished for mistakes and discouraged from experimenting. Fear of success means people worry that success will bring uncomfortable or distasteful changes.
So my challenge to each of you is that you wake up each day with a sense of urgency both at work and in your personal life, and practice the recommendations above. Constantly critique your business and look for opportunities to improve. Lead by your actions, and the team will follow.