It all starts with a sense of urgency Urgency means “of pressing importance”. People have a true sense or urgency when they think that action on critical issues is needed now and not eventually, when it fits easily into schedule. Now means making real progress every single day. Critically important means challenges that are central to success or survival, winning or losing.
Eg: A sense of urgency is not an attitude that I must have the project team meeting today, but that the meeting must accomplish something important today.
A real sense of urgency is a highly positive and highly focused force. It is believed people cannot maintain a high sense of urgency over a prolonged period of time, without burnout. But true urgency doesn’t produce stress, because it motivates people to look for ways to get rid of irrelevant activities.
Complacency and False Urgency Complacency is “ a feeling of contentment or self satisfaction, especially when coupled with an unawareness of danger or trouble”. Feeling : Complacency is less a matter of conscious, rational analysis than unconscious emotion. Self: It is possible to see problems and be complacent because you do not feel that the problems require changes in your actions.
How to identify complacency? They never think they are complacent. Content with the status quo; irrationally afraid of the personal consequences of change. Do not alertly look for new opportunities or hazards facing their organization. They do what has worked for them in the past. Who can be complacent? You, me, any one!
False sense of Urgency Result of failures or some form of intense pressure that is put on a group. Those with a false sense of urgency do not think that all is well; they think the situation they are in is a mess. Tend to be very anxious, angry, frustrated and tired. Behave in ways that can easily be mistaken for people with a real sense of urgency because they are very active. But the action is much more activity than productivity. Who can have a false sense of urgency? You, me or anyone!!
Just as with people who are complacent, those with a false sense of urgency often don’t see it!!
Two Examples: Example 1: A technology enterprise company with products in the general arena called data warehousing. The firm had been very successful, but margins and market share were slipping. The enterprise had lost its industry leadership in technological breakthroughs, especially in the application of emerging nanotechnologies to its products.
The executive committee asked consulting companies to submit proposals, 4 months later a consultant was chosen and 9 months later, consultant submitted a draft of new strategy for the enterprise. The CEO created a task force of which only 2 out of the top 10 people were members. CEO was not a member. The members of the task force met for the first time 4 weeks after they were constituted.
At the first meeting, the discussion was on whether the strategy was the right one rather than on how to implement it. No one said they didn’t understand why they were in the committee or they didn’t understand the 100-page document submitted by the consultant. No decision was made at the first task force meeting except that it must have another meeting. They set a time in 4 weeks to meet again. Between the 1st and 2nd meeting, very little happened except behind-the-scene chatter about why those on the task force were selected and why the specific consulting firm was chosen. Nobody acted, only complained.
At the 2nd meeting, a sub-task force was created for communication of the new strategy, no discussion was there on what should be communicated. 6 months after the 2nd task force meeting, margins and market share continued to slip.
Caroline works for a smaller version of the data warehousing company. Her firm recently faced a challenge equally as difficult as the one faced by the other larger firm.
At Caroline’s level in the company, there was an odd mixture of frustration, arrogance and a tendency to blame other departments or senior management for any perceived problems.
Caroline met the Chief Administrative Officer(CAO) who was the most open minded and least status conscious.
Over the next 3 weeks, CAO met with people at Caroline’s level over informal lunches. He frequently visited other buildings and asked for recent written reports with outside data. He then cancelled a trip to Europe and had a long dinner with the CEO. An alarmed CEO rearranged his schedule to allow for a series of lunches, meetings and examination of reports which would never have reached his level in the firm. The rest is history, as they say, coming from CEO and CAO, a sense of urgency began to rise with surprising speed.
Increasing true urgency:One strategy and four tactics “Great leaders win over the hearts and minds of others” Aim for the heart The winning strategy combines an analytically sound, ambitious, but logical goals with methods that help people experience those goals as exciting, meaningful and uplifting.
Tactics that aim for the heart, and successfully increase urgency, have 5 characteristics:
Thoughtfully created human experiences.
Not only told, but shown.
Designed to make change-weary, cynical people believe that a crisis might be a blessing in disguise.
Don’t need to be explicit.
Almost inevitably raise our sights to emotionally embrace goals beyond status quo and coping with a difficult situation.
An example of the basic strategy At the annual top management meeting of a well-known company, 2 division managers were both on the agenda to make speeches. The audience was about 150 of their peers, their subordinates, as well as their boss.
Manager 1 walked to the podium with his notes. He asked for the lights to go down and he began his speech. A new information-rich power point appeared every 30 to 60 seconds. Many slides were filed with numbers and charts. He looked at his notes for 1/3rd of the time, the slides another third and what he could see of the audience the final third.
Manager 2 was noticeably more nervous. He put his notes down and stood beside the podium. When the lights went down, he made a joke out of it and received a chuckle out of the audience. He asked the lights to be turned up and then went on to speak for an hour with very little, almost 10% of data of previous presentation. He talked about markets, what a customer recently told him which left him upset and about how he thought of early retirement but dropped the idea because he wanted to retire a winner, which he damned well planned on doing. He ended and received the longest applause heard at the meeting.
The best data-backed plan may raise little urgency in a company whose very successes have left it complacent that most people are not looking for, and are not inclined to listen to, a new plan.
Tactic One: Bring the Outside In Tactic based on the observation that organizations of any size or age tend to be too internally oriented. A disconnect between what insiders see, feel and think and external opportunities and hazards, reduces an organization’s sense of urgency. Complacency grows.
Recognize the pervasive problem of internal focus. Past successes. Listen to customer-interfacing employees. Faith in them. Treat them with respect. Asking questions and listening closely to answers and never giving up.
Use the power of video. Don’t always shield people from troubling data Top management may try to initiate significant changes based on the data they have but others may not have. Redecorate (example) Send people out. Bring people in
Bring “data” in, but in the right way. “Clipping service” sending relevant information in decent volumes in the most interesting manner to as many people as possible. Watch out that you don’t create a false sense of urgency.
Tactic Two: Behave with urgency every day Respond fast, move now! Example: Ninan runs 3 small offices in India.His firm’s business is outsourcing. The co’s competitive advantage in the global market place is that it has a relatively inexpensive and yet educated young workforce that speaks English.
Ninan sees new competition emerging constantly and fears that complacency is a looming problem. In conversations, meetings and e-mails, Ninan constantly demonstrates his own sense of urgency. Some one calls to ask for info on a critical issue and Ninan says he’ll send by the end of working day tomorrow, even though the other person did not request that speed. At the conclusion of a meeting which seems to fly by, he tells the others what he will be doing over the next 7 days to implement their decisions. He is very concrete. Then he asks each of the others in the meeting what they will do over the next 7 days.
He tags onto e-mail after e-mail some comment, perhaps only a sentence, about how the competition is trying to offer better service. If some one asks “ when can we talk about” an important subject, more often than not he says “ how about now?” People who dare to open their appointment books and say there’s no possibility to meet any time soon receive a glaring look from their boss. He’s not mean; he praises, speaks of opportunities and emphasizes pride.
Be visibly urgent Urgent patience
Tactic 3: Find opportunity in crises Always think of crises as potential opportunities, and not only dreadful problems that automatically must be delegated to the damage control specialists.
Avoid the following mistakes: Assume that the crises will inevitably create a sense of urgency to perform better. Going over the line with a strategy that creates an angry backlash because people feel manipulated. Passively sitting and waiting for a crisis which may never come; act with urgency every day. Underestimating what the people who would avoid crises at all costs correctly appreciate: that crises can bring disaster.
Tactic 4: Deal with No Nos NoNos are highly skilled urgency killers. If they can’t do that, they create anxiety or anger and the flurry of useless activity associated with a false sense of urgency. Wrong Approach:
Don’t waste time trying to co-opt a NoNo.
Never ignore the NoNos.
What can be done:
Distract the NoNos.
Get rid of them.
Immobilize them with social pressures.
Keeping Urgency Up Case Study
A healthcare company.
When they began, nearly everyone in the company was willing to change because of the threat of being closed down.
As they became more and more successful, they kept the momentum from slowing by comparing themselves with similar health care companies.
When they started to lead the field, things started getting complacent. Now they have started the idea of looking at themselves “from the investors’ point of view” To keep you moving, in many cases, it is essential to have an external problem. If you are just going to beat up on people and say we have to do better, it doesn’t work. Making more money doesn’t do it either.