Tuesday, August 12, 2008

A Sense of Urgency Wins

One of my long term favourite expressions is "set a pace you can maintain forever but sense of urgency wins". Sense of urgency is very much tied to Time Management. People and companies with a sense of urgency win. Its that simple.

Sense of urgency has been one of my secret tricks over the years. Now, John Kotter has written a very simple, fast, easy to read book on the topic called "A Sense of Urgency" that not only explains why we need a sense of urgency but explains strategy and tactics on how to develop it and make it real.

Kotter especially speaks of the need for urgency in times of change.

He also speaks of the dangers of false urgency - how to identify it and deal with it. All appearances of high activity and action are not neccessarily true or positive urgency.

Some text from the book (greatly summarized):

Crucial first step in his framework: creating a sense of urgency by getting people to actually see and feel the need for change.

1. If a sense of urgency is not high enough, everything else becomes so much more difficult.

2. Success easily produces complacency.

3. The opposite of urgency is not only complacency. It’s also a false or misguided sense of urgency that is as prevalent today as complacency itself and even more insidious.

4. Mistaking what you might call false urgency from real urgency is a huge problem today. People constantly see the frenzied action, assume that it represents true urgency.

5. It most certainly is possible to recognize false urgency and complacency and transform each into a true sense of urgency. There is a strategy.

6. Urgency is becoming increasingly important because change is shifting from episodic to continuous.

Put simply a strong sense of urgency is moving from an essential element in big change programs to an essential asset in general.

The number one problem they have is all about creating a sense of urgency - and that's the first step in a series of actions needed to succeed in a changing world.

False urgency is a condition that is very different from complacency. While complacency embraces the status quo, false urgency can be filled with new activities. While complacency often has a sort of sleepy quality, false urgency is filled with energy. False urgency is built on a platform of anxiety and anger.

Anxiety and anger drive behavior that can be highly energetic - which is why people mistake false for true urgency. But the energy from anger and anxiety can easily create activity, not productivity.

The Strategy

Create action that is exceptionally alert, externally oriented, relentlessly aimed at winning, making some progress each and every day, and constantly purging low value-added activities - all by always focusing on the heart and not just the mind.

The Tactics (you really have to read to book to understand these)

1. Bring the Outside in
2. Behave with Urgency Every Day
3. Find Opportunity in Crises
4. Deal with the NoNos

Speed will only increase. A sense of urgency will only become more essential.

3 Comments:

At 12:56 PM, OpenID elliotross said...

The difficult thing with urgency in an organizational environment is the lower level "false urgency" that can be created from a genuine "true urgency"

Senior leaders work to inject urgency into the corporate strategic direction, or changes in the threat landscape (ie Microsoft or Dell or WalMart is entering into your industry)

However at lower levels, the message gets "received" that some 30 hour chunk of work is due EOB Friday, and it is now Thursday at Noon

 
At 3:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi folks,

If I may...

We are talking about human beings who have enough urgency in their lives, and just like the boss, in the workplace they are only self-interested--why do you think they are there? A lot of us are numb from the constant sense of urgency that surrounds us already. Why are we suggest that we stoke that? Are we considering the huge increase in stress related work absences that we may have played a part in. You can only stroke and talk people into your game plan to a very small degree in any event. The only true sense of urgency an employee develops EVER is if something is going to affect their own income potential, work environment or health, which helps bad bosses immensely in developing the urgency by the (a) "you will be rewarded here or in heaven" play or (b) "this may go on your performance review" threat.

Reward, punishment and fiction is the only thing we seem to have.

I think a lot of staff are bored with management's droning happy talk, attempting to sell them a vision that they only play a ficticous part in.

This is the same stuff we were talking about a decade ago and a strong reminder for people to get out of the employ of people who read this stuff.

We did not need another book like this.

Respectfully,
TPH

 
At 11:04 PM, Anonymous Randall Howard said...

Jim,
I couldn't agree more, and I'm glad you highlighted this. A sense of urgency is often what separates a true entrepreneur from a typical organization person. In fact, in making early stage investments, strong evidence of a sense of urgency can be key in our investment decision. While the passion and focus that underlie this trait may well be innate, I believe it's still possible for an entrepreneur to hone and refine their personal urgency index.

 

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