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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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.

[ Want to create a sense of urgency in your organization? Take 5 quick steps with our Fast Start Guide: Creating a sense of urgency, with John Kotter. ]

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 2016 State of the American Workplace Report, only 33 percent of employees are actively committed to doing a good job. Fifty-one percent merely put their time in, while the remaining 16 percent act out their discontent in counterproductive ways, negatively influencing others. [Editor's note: This paragraph was updated to reflect new data]. 

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.

[ Want to create a more agile culture? Get the digital transformation eBook: Teaching an elephant to dance. ]

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.