20 ways to create a sense of urgency

20 ways to create a sense of urgency

The most successful people maintain a sense of urgency in order to be the best they can be

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September 24, 2015
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Have you noticed that the people who make things happen in this world value and share a similar sense of urgency?

Regardless of what people aim to achieve, whether in sport, business or otherwise, 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, and they pursue it – regardless of what anyone else thinks or says – because their sense of urgency is an integral part of who they are.

As an independent consultant who has been stepping in and out of dozens of companies around the world since the 1990s, I have been fortunate enough to witness a broad array of organizational cultures and learn a great deal from the great people I have met along the way. This broad exposure has also allowed me to observe the good, the bad and the downright ugly behaviors that contribute to a company’s transformation success – or the alternative.

[ Take a deep dive on digital transformation. See our related article, 10 digital transformation must-reads, for expert advice from CIOs and IT leaders. ]

One striking observation has been the lack of any sense of urgency among some people that organizations rely upon to contribute to their transformation. Sometimes this is due to the fact that these folks have only lived in an operational mode, and stepping into a delivery mode is an alien concept that they need to adopt. But other times even some "delivery professionals" demonstrate complacency and a lack of any real sense of urgency.

Eroded engagement

According to Gallup’s 2013 State of the American Workplace Report, only 30 percent of employees are actively committed to doing a good job. Fifty percent merely put their time in, while the remaining 20 percent act out their discontent in counterproductive ways, negatively influencing others.

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.

Gallup grouped the surveyed staff into these three categories:

1. Engaged Employees - who work with passion and feel a profound connection to their company. They drive innovation and move the organisation forward.

2. Not Engaged Employees - who are essentially “checked out.” They’re sleepwalking through their workday, putting time, but not energy or passion, into their work.

3. Actively Disengaged Employees - who aren’t just unhappy at work; they’re busy acting out their unhappiness and even undermine what their engaged coworkers accomplish.

People who fall into categories two and three are not what transformation programs need to be successful. In fact, such a lack of commitment at any level of the transformation organization can create unwanted risk from the outset, so it is vital to address it quickly and prevent it from festering. But it takes skilful leadership to move people from categories two and three into one.

20 tactics

The list below provides 20 ideas that can be used to help create a sense of urgency.

  1. Custom-build your own strategy for increasing a sense of urgency.
  2. Secure stakeholder input and buy-in to the strategy.
  3. Don't exhibit panic, stress or loss of control.
  4. Make smart decisions with confidence and act on them quickly.
  5. Identify obstacles and remove them fast.
  6. Establish an outcome-focused culture (instead of task-focused).
  7. Evangelize the importance of establishing a sense of urgency.
  8. Clarify the consequences of inaction.
  9. Identify what works & remove all that doesn't.
  10. Identify causes of complacency and how to eradicate them.
  11. Exhibit urgency in your body language. Don't shuffle around.
  12. Encourage and offer help. Don't nag, bully or threaten.
  13. Find reasons to celebrate small successes and communicate them far and wide.
  14. Get personal with one-to-one praise. Put your emotional intelligence to work.
  15. Agree on deadlines for action.
  16. Keep meetings short, to the point, and agenda-driven.
  17. Get to the point quickly and encourage others to do the same. Wipe out waffle.
  18. Meet your personal deadlines, and expect the same of others.
  19. Provide initial guidance and encouragement to get things going.
  20. Get peoples' senses involved. Don't just talk and make them read reports.

Kotter declares that a true sense of urgency is rare

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.

Kotter offered four fundamental tactics to establish a sense of urgency in any environment:

1. Bring the outside in

A “we know best” culture reduces urgency; so help people see external opportunities.

2. Behave with urgency every day

Managers and leaders need to walk the talk and lead by example.

3. Find opportunity in crises

A well-leveraged crisis can be a valuable tool to break through complacency.

4. Deal with the NoNos

Address those who are always working hard to hinder change.

Lead, support and walk the talk

As Kotter and the Gallup poll suggest, a sense of urgency is rare, which is why leaders need to step up and address that fact; because without it, mediocrity prevails and mediocrity is not the stuff that successful transformation is made of. Instead, it's a key ingredient for failure.

The majority of people who struggle to work independently with a sense of urgency need support. Support to help them feel accountable and committed to achieving their goals, which in turn ignites a sense of urgency in their work. So leaders need to challenge themselves to bring about this change in peoples' hearts and minds – and not sit back declaring that the people around them are not motivated. The ability to move people to being actively engaged with a sense of urgency plays an important role in separating highly effective modern-day leaders from the rest.

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Trusted advisor to the C-suite & certified Global Business Transformation Master with three decades of international experience helping some of the world's most well known brands. Rob helps leaders enjoy the value of the new breed of transformation management tools such as the Digital Capability Framework & the Business Transformation Management Methodology.

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