What is a Sense of Urgency?

A sense of urgency is a feeling that something needs to be done immediately or as soon as possible. It’s a feeling of importance or pressing need that drives people to act quickly and decisively. When people that way, they are more likely to focus their attention and energy on the task at hand, which can lead to better performance.

A sense of urgency can be a powerful motivator, as it helps people focus on the task at hand and work efficiently to achieve their goals.

A sense of urgency can also help people overcome procrastination and hesitation, and it can drive them to take risks and pursue opportunities that might otherwise be overlooked. In short, a sense of urgency helps people get things done and achieve their goals.

While a sense of urgency can be a powerful motivator, it is important to manage it, so that it does not become overwhelming or lead to rash or impulsive decisions. If not managed properly, a sense of urgency can also lead to stress and anxiety, so it’s important to also remain calm and focused.

Sense of Urgency Examples

Here are some examples of situations where a sense of urgency might be important:

An emergency situation, such as a natural disaster or a medical emergency, where quick action is needed to protect lives and property.

A business deadline, such as a project deadline or a sales target, where meeting the deadline is essential to the success of the business.

A personal goal, such as training for a marathon or applying to a university, where achieving the goal requires focused effort and a strong sense of urgency.

A social or political issue, such as environmental protection or social justice, where urgent action is needed to address the problem.

A crisis or difficult situation, such as a financial crisis or a relationship breakdown, where a sense of urgency can help motivate a person to find a solution.

A Sense of Urgency in Digital Transformation

Great news! Your A-players have established what they believe is a digital transformation strategy that will future-proof the organisation’s success at least until 2030. The CEO and other key executives are all behind it! What a celebration!

But with employee engagement at dismally low levels, what honestly makes you believe the great news will continue for very long?

Employee Engagement
Source: Gallup

What makes your organisation different from the many that get excited about transformation strategy but struggle when it comes to turning those promising PowerPoint and PDF pages into reality?

In order to operate with urgency and pursue the agility required to turn your strategy into reality, you’re probably going to have to fill some serious capability gaps – sooner rather than later.

People Who Make Things Happen

One striking observation I’ve made over the years is the lack of any sense of urgency among some people. Their pace is painfully slow, and this is often because they’re either not engaged with the work they do or they’ve spent most of their career in operational tick-over mode.

Regardless of what people aim to achieve, whether it’s in sport or business, those who set themselves apart from the rest maintain a sense of urgency in order to be the best they can be. While most people seem to be full of great ideas, few of them follow through with the action and sense of urgency required to turn ideas into reality.

Have you noticed that the people who make things happen in this world all tend to value and share a similar sense of urgency? You’ll often see these people starting new businesses, leading projects, programmes, and transformation efforts, because they possess the sense of urgency required to turn bright ideas and strategy into reality.

At the highest-performing companies, you’ll hear words such as “energy” and “bias for action”, and in his April 2017 letter to Amazon shareholders, Jeff Bezos wrote about making not just “high-quality” decisions but “high-velocity” decisions.

“Most decisions should probably be made with somewhere around 70 percent of the information you wish you had. If you wait for 90 percent, in most cases you’re probably being slow. Choosing not to fail fast comes at a price.”

Jeff Bezos

Is your organisation’s progress being held back by people who won’t move forward without 90 or even 100 percent of the information they think is rightfully required?

Elevating Employee Engagement

Employers have been measuring employee engagement for many years and according to Gallup, employee engagement is at 20 percent globally. This means that most employees might either watching the clock or opponents of even opponents of the organisation that pays their wages.

Group 1 – Engaged Employees who work with passion and feel a profound connection to their company. They drive innovation and move the organisation forward.

Group 2 – Not Engaged Employees who are essentially “checked out.” They’re sleepwalking through their day, putting time but not passion or energy, into their work.

Group 3 – Actively Disengaged Employees who aren’t just unhappy at work. They’re busy acting out their unhappiness and even undermine what their engaged co-workers accomplish.

For digital transformation to be successful, managers and leaders need people who fall into group 1. The reality is that many won’t get to enjoy that luxury, as they will have plenty from groups 2 and 3 to contend with.

Sense of Urgency

The sense of urgency required in transformation is not a characteristic that is typically found among groups 2 and 3. So here are 20 ideas for managers and leaders to consider as they endeavour to create a sense of urgency among their people.

  1. Custom-build your own strategy for increasing a sense of urgency.
  2. Secure stakeholder input and buy-in to the strategy.
  3. Get peoples’ senses involved. Don’t just talk and make them read reports.
  4. Don’t exhibit panic, stress, or loss of control.
  5. Make smart decisions with confidence and act on them quickly.
  6. Agree deadlines for action.
  7. Identify obstacles and remove them fast.
  8. Establish an outcome-focused culture (instead of task-focused).
  9. Evangelise the importance of establishing a sense of urgency.
  10. Clarify the consequences of inaction.
  11. Identify what works and remove all that doesn’t.
  12. Identify causes of complacency and how to eradicate them.
  13. Exhibit urgency in your body language. Don’t shuffle around.
  14. Encourage and offer help. Don’t nag, bully, or threaten.
  15. Find reasons to celebrate small successes and communicate them far and wide.
  16. Get personal with one-to-one praise. Put your emotional intelligence to work.
  17. Keep meetings short, to the point, and agenda driven.
  18. Get to the point quickly and encourage others to do the same. Wipe out waffle.
  19. Meet your personal deadlines and expect the same of others.
  20. Provide initial guidance and encouragement to get things going.

The list is far from exhaustive, so add your suggestions in the comments below.

A True Sense of Urgency

In his book A Sense of Urgency John Kotter explained that a true sense of urgency is rare; mainly because “it is not the natural state of affairs. It has to be created and recreated.” So 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 bring about and maintain an atmosphere of achievement …long after strategy has been developed.

Kotter offered four fundamental tactics to establish a sense of urgency in any environment:

Bring the outside in
A “we know best” culture reduces urgency; so help people see external opportunities.

Behave with urgency every day
Managers and leaders need to walk the talk and lead by example.

Find opportunity in crises
A well leveraged crisis can be a valuable tool to break through complacency.

Deal with the No-Nos
Address those who are always working hard to hinder change.

Lead, Support and Walk the Talk

As Kotter, Gallup, and others suggest, a sense of urgency is a rare but a key characteristic for success, which is why leaders need to step up and address it. Because without it, mediocrity will prevail, and mediocrity is not the stuff that successful transformation or organisations is made of.
The majority of people who struggle to work independently with a sense of urgency need support. Support to help them feel passionate, accountable, and committed to achieving their goals, which in turn can ignite a sense of urgency in their work.

This means that managers and leaders need to challenge themselves to bring about this change in peoples’ hearts and minds – and not sit back declaring that people aren’t motivated.
While plenty of managers and leaders complain about people who lack motivation, the best managers and leaders are busy doing the motivating. The ability to move people to being actively engaged with a sense of urgency is what often separates great managers and leaders from the rest.

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