Manual A Sense of Urgency

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But it didn't happen. Instead of mobilizing people into action, the crisis led many managers into making fewer decisions because they didn't want to be accused of mistakes with the press and public watching. Many other managers were genuinely afraid that is they rushed into actions their decisions might accidentally create harm. So they held back just at a time when the CEO most needed their help to get the organization moving swiftly into a better future.

Urgency - Motivational video

Big Mistake Number 2: Going over the line with a strategy that creates an angry backlash because people feel manipulated. No one wants to feel manipulated. If people sense that someone has created a crisis that deliberately puts them in harm's way, especially if it is not strongly connected to real business problems, they may suspect sabotage or lunacy, both of which can create anger and not a steely determination to act fast and win.

The crisis-creating strategy not only fails but makes matters worse. Because his managers and employees would not change to meet new market demands, the head of the largest division of a Midwestern manufacturing company reluctantly drew the conclusion that his only alternative was to engineer a crisis. But energy within his organization did not emerge as a strong sense of urgency to act.

Book Notes by David Mays

New energy formed more as anger looking for someone to blame for the crisis. Suddenly, a rumor started that the plant manager had purposefully taken steps in the prior year in order to create the severe problems the company faced. Any energy to confront the facts and deal with the real business problems was redirected at the plant manager. Big Mistake Number 3: Passively sitting and waiting for a crisis which many never come. A major problem with passive strategies is that nature may not cooperate by providing the right amount of lightning in the right place at the right time.

A passive, hopeful, wait-and-see strategy fails.


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The CEO at an electric utility was actually looking forward to deregulation as a means of unfreezing a tradition-bound monopoly that was not adequately preparing for a more competitive future. But deregulation came slower than he anticipated and with fewer new freedoms.

How to Get More of a Sense of Urgency on Your Team

The enterprise continued to make money even as it turned slowly to lose market share in a post-monopoly world. The positive net income helped greatly in supporting complacency. In frustration, his change agents waited and waited for a powerful legislation that they knew must happen in the current year.

But it never did, and the crisis never came. Big Mistake Number 4: Underestimating what the people who would avoid crises at all costs correctly appreciate: that crisis can bring disaster. Using a technology recently made available because of ever-shrinking microchips, a new competitor took away dozens of a firm's key customers. The crisis could have been anticipated. But because the management believed that only an unexpected burning platform could help push a complacent organization out of its comfort zone, it didn't pay attention to the danger signs.

Revenues collapsed, losses mounted, the stock tanked, people were laid off, and some good employees jumped ship. The platform burned for all but the most complacent. Even the few employees who were mobilized into action found that the firm's needs were overwhelming. Morale sank. Losses continued to grow.

Then the firm was bought by someone at a bargain price, someone who sliced and diced the company out of existence. In summary, a burning platform, yes; a changed organization equipped to meet the needs of the future, not even close. Of all the risks associated with crises, this last one is obviously the biggest. Instead of creating a sense of urgency, you end up out of business.

You don't find this happening often, because people sense the danger and work very hard to avoid it. But crises sometimes do cripple or destroy organizations. Here is the strongest demonstration yet that crises, though they can be highly useful, are not necessarily your friend when urgency is needed. Leaders who are successful in creating urgency utilize four behaviors. Tactic One - Bring the Outside In. Organizations are generally too internally focused. Leaders are often disconnected from external opportunities and hazards. Thus complacency grows.

source Urgency grows when what is happening on the outside is observed by those on the inside. Video tape and show things outside that insiders need to see like customers using and criticizing your product.

Give out troubling information: don't withhold it. Decorate with signals for "excitement, caution, speed, and change. Bring outsiders in experts, consultants, customers to present and report. Bring in external data, appropriately. Tactic Two - Behave with urgency every day. Tactic Three - Find opportunity in crises. When one is on a "burning platform" the crisis causes one to move, looking for an opportunity. Control systems are important but don't let damage control eliminate an opportunity to mobilize needed action. A crisis can be used to create urgency, and to position an organization for the future.

Fear and anger can kill hope. The heart needs hope in order to act with passion, conviction, optimism, and resolve. If natural events do not create a crisis, you must. But be wise. However, it must be associated with real business problems, not be a ploy. Tactic Four - Deal with NoNos. NoNos are highly skilled urgency killers. They can be powerful barriers to progress. NoNos will discredit people and derail the process. They continue to question the information and demand more proof.

They disrupt useful conversation and cause delay and frustration. You can't ignore them. You can't co-opt them. You must distract them, push them out of the organization, or expose their behaviors in a socially acceptable way so that social pressure will shut them down. Keeping urgency up. At no time are these natural forces stronger than after people have worked very hard and have been rewarded by a visible, unambiguous win. If you are just going to beat up on people and say we have to do better, it doesn't work.

We need to do more.

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We need to try harder. I'm willing to try harder. Behaviors that are the norm include being constantly alert, focusing externally, moving fast, stopping low-value-added activities that absorb time and effort, relentlessly pushing for change when it is needed, and providing the leadership to produce smart change no matter where you are in the hierarchy.

Some personal thoughts:. In our society some people are pretty relaxed. Others are over endowed with a sense of urgency and responsibility. The former tend to under respond to attempts to build urgency and the latter tend to over respond, developing an ever increasing high-stress lifestyle that is not healthy for them or their families. Because we are moving from episodic to continuous change, Kotter says we need for urgency to become part of the culture of our organizations. Urgency generates stress.

Habitual stress is a growing characteristic of American lives and is leading to all kinds of personal, family, and societal breakdowns. The author says an ongoing sense of urgency does not have to lead to burnout. The way to cope is to delegate better and to quit doing unnecessary activities While there is a bit of truth here, the larger truth is that some activities can be dismissed and some can be set aside temporarily, but in the long haul the piper must be paid.

Many of the things that can be delayed temporarily can't be delayed forever. Things get put aside that are required by the boss, by regulations, by the government, by ethics, and by good relationships.