Urgency - Now!
If you are a leader, like me you have dealt with a question and a frustration over and over again in the months of COVID-19. And even though we have made movements back toward normalcy, the basic issues we have are not going to quickly change, if ever. Experts are saying that many elements of business life we considered normal will never be the same again.
How do you create a sense of urgency in the midst of COVID-19 and the ongoing ripple effects? Maybe you have a lack of employees because of fewer finances within your company. Maybe you have a lack because all the “free money” is making it easier for people to simply sit at home instead working. Maybe everyone is fatigued with the way things have been. Maybe they have become adjusted to a more relaxed approach and don’t want to go back. Perhaps, as has happened with many organizations and businesses, team members have become adjusted to concentrating primarily on tasks and not much contact with people, and they are reluctant to invest the time in clients that is necessary. Things still have to get done. You can become so “relaxed” and pulled off mission during seasons like this that you miss the opportunities that can truly pull you out of your problems.
It’s vital for leaders to know the difference between urgency and emergency. Emergency is an after-the-fact response to an action or consequence, while urgency is a proactive state of performance CEOs often find themselves needing to create. Competitive pressure is one reason urgency is needed. If a manager is unable to keep forward movement at an urgent pace, they will likely lose in the marketplace because they eventually will be unable to provide consumers with the solutions they need when they need them.
Urgency is also vitally needed in times of change. Right now our world-wide situation has necessitated change, and as in other times of change, we must get about it as quickly as possible, in the shortest time possible. Creating urgency must be done correctly. When it is not done well, urgency can create anxiety which will be defeating. It will stress out your team. In fact, in his best-selling book, A Sense of Urgency, John Kotter states that productive urgency is vastly different than anxiety or stress. “People think they are urgent when in fact they are simply anxious. If urgency signals panic, good people look for other jobs.”
Let’s think about some questions for a few minutes:
Why do most organizations start working double the speed when a production issue happens
Why do they start taking action when a customer complains and makes noise?
Why do we have ideas we think will change the world, but it never happens?
Why do we feel under pressure when we have less time and more to do?
Why is there always a delay in making decisions particularly when we need change?
Why do people and organizations lose focus from the goal?
Why do we “know” how to bring productivity, but we keep failing to bring the change?
The answer is that we have to create a SENSE of urgency.
Urgency means something needs handled right away. A sense of urgency means you always see things as urgent.This means you don’t wait for a situation to arise and then make something urgent.
This means you must…
Respect time. You always have a deadline in your mind.
You are proactive and NOT reactive.
You understand that goals are important, and you know the consequence if a goal is not achieved.
Mr. Kotter says, “Urgency is a combination of thoughts, feelings, and actual behavior. The thoughts are… there are great opportunities out there, great hazards. The feelings are a gut-level determination that we’re going to do something now; we’re going to do something to win. And the behavior is this hyper-alertness to what’s going on. It’s a sense of coming to work each and every day with a commitment to making something happen on the most important issues.”
So how do we help our organizations create a sense of urgency?
Top Management Commitment Without the commitment from top management, the vision and changes will not flow.
Kotter says, “Establishing a sense of urgency means you’re trying to change the status quo, to push employees to no longer be complacent, and to help employees see that it is critical to move forward sooner rather than later.”
Team Challenge Everyone in the organization needs to understand that we all work for the customer, creating value for THEM. Doing things that fulfill the needs of the customer should be the topmost priority. Push everyone to continually ask, “WHY are we doing this?” In today’s fast-changing world and climate, if there is no sense of urgency then there is a high possibility that your customers will leave you.
Measure and evaluate your outcomes continually.
What slows down the progress?
What skill sets are we are lacking and what can we do about it?
What are our customers/consumers saying about our services?
What issues are coming and what can do to reduce the occurrences?
Are we easy to contact and our products easy to use? If not, what can we do about it?
Call for action with deadlines. Ensure each of the team members understand why we are measuring this.
Create a culture of transparency. As the organization grows it tends to become complex, and it’s more difficult to understand goals and progress or difficulties. Make the business goals transparent and understandable to everyone, from the senior people to the newest. Continually communicate good and hard news and ask for feedback.
Watch who you hire. Hire people who can inspire people, give feedback, take feedback, are action-oriented, protect the company’s values, and create a sense of urgency. The right people can take your company to the next level, and the wrong people can very nicely lead you to failure.
Learn by asking questions. In his book, Winning, Jack Welch said, “When you are a leader, your job is to have all the questions. You have to be incredibly comfortable looking like the dumbest person in the room. Every conversation you have about a decision, a proposal, or a piece of market information has to be filled with you saying, “What if?” and “Why not?” and “How come?”
Prioritize time to think and plan. FOCUS. Highly productive people take the time to think, plan, and set priorities, then they launch quickly and strongly toward their goals and objectives. They work steadily, smoothly, and continuously. When they do this, they produce enormous amounts in the same time period that the average person spends socializing, wasting time, and working on low-value activities.
Getting into “flow.” When you work on high-value tasks at a high and continuous level of activity, you can actually enter into a mental state called “flow.” Almost everyone has experienced this at some time. Really successful people are those who get themselves into this state far more often than the average. Great organizations are full of people who are in the state of flow because they have a state of urgency. They don’t feel anxious—they feel energetic and have a sense of personal effectiveness.
When you have developed a mental state of urgency, you develop a bias for action. You act rather than talking continually about what you are going to do. You focus on specific steps you can take immediately. You concentrate on the things you can do right now to get the results you want and achieve the goals you desire.
The only real leadership is accomplished by example. When your team sees all of this in you, they will join you or leave, and you will have a team that accomplishes at their growing high potential. It will be a most satisfying place to be.