Posted by: magnussonllc | August 12, 2009

Analyzing Sense of Urgency in Change

You know your organization needs to change. You may even know what the change needs to be: a new strategy, a new IT system, and acquisition or reorganization. But somehow, change comes too slowly, or it feels like you are pushing a boulder up a hill or the implementation of that new great idea has stalled – again.

What is missing, and is needed in almost all organizations today, is a real sense of urgency – a distinctive attitude and a gut-level feeling that lead people to grab opportunities and avoid hazards, to make something important happen today, and constantly shed low-priority activities to move faster and smarter, now.  John Kotter describes in his book “ A sense of urgency”, why urgency is the most critical component in making change happen .

The problem is complacency. Complacency is “a feeling of contentment or self satisfaction especially when coupled with an unawareness of danger or trouble.” Highly destructive complacency is, in fact, all around us, many times with people being completely unaware of it. Complacency grows, leading to even less interest in or focus on outside reality, leading to still more complacency.

Another risk is a false sense of urgency. This is a condition that is very different of complacency. False urgency is built on a platform of anxiety and anger. These emotions drive behavior that can be highly energetic – which is why people mistake false urgency for true urgency. It can easily create activity but not necessarily productivity. It is more mindless running to protect themselves, ot attack others than purposive focus on critical problems and opportunities. Run-run, meet-meet, talk-talk, defend-defend, and go home exhausted.

These are great questions to find complacency and false urgency

  • Are critical issues delegated to consultants or task forces with little involvement of key people?
  • Do people have trouble scheduling meetings or important initiatives?Timebomb
  • Is candor lacking in confronting the bureaucracy and politics that are slowing down important initiatives?
  • Do meetings on key issues end with no decisions about what must happen immediately?
  • Are discussions very inwardly focused and not about markets, emerging technologies or competitors?
  • Do people spend long hours developing PPT-presentations on almost everything?
  • Do people run from meeting to meeting, exhausting themselves and rarely if ever focusing on the most critical issues or opportunities?
  • Are highly selective facts used to shoot down data that suggests that there is a big hazard or opportunity?
  • Do people regularly blame others for any significant problems instead of taking responsibilities and changing?
  • Does passive aggression exist around big issues?
  • Are failures in the past discussed not to learn but to stop or stall new initiatives?
  • Do people say, “We must act now!” but then don’t act?
  • Do cynical jokes undermine important discussions?
  • Are specific assignments around critical issues regularly not completed on time or with sufficient quality?
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