Creating major change in an organization is tough. The change process in the context of any business transformation is even more tricky. And for that, you will need to create a sense of urgency. Creating a strong sense of urgency requires bold, if not risky, actions that we normally associate with good leadership.
We typically don’t see real leadership because companies are mostly “overmanaged and underled,” and having “everything under control (managed)” is the central value. It’s hard to get someone to take bold action if they have been rewarded for 30 years for being cautious and prudent. Here are some ways to establish a sense of urgency:
1. Create a crisis by making an organizational failure very, very visible
Most companies try to hide, obfuscate, or downplay organizational failures. An example would be missing a key product delivery deadline because of gridlock in the legal department. Instead of chalking it up to “that’s just how it goes sometimes,” focus on it, talk about it, force conversations about it, and use it as leverage to shock people into talking about change.
2. Share data about customer satisfaction and financial performance across the organization
This is another area where I see obfuscation. How on earth will people feel a sense of urgency if senior management is always telling everyone, “Things are fine”? Share this information across the company so that everyone is talking from the same point of reference.
3. Insist that people talk regularly to dissatisfied customers, unhappy suppliers, and disgruntled stakeholders
“But that’s the job of customer service!” We are all customer service. Have developers talk to dissatisfied customers and they will learn more in a five-minute conversation than in a month of customer satisfaction surveys. Have the CEO take a few customer service calls. Have everyone share the pain. Again, this serves to put everyone on equal footing in understanding where the shortcomings are, and it increases the urgency level.
4. Put more honest discussions of the firm’s problems in company newspapers and senior management speeches
American corporate culture tends to do a lot of cheerleading when things are going well, and a lot of cheerleading when things are going poorly. Your employees are not children. Be honest, air out the issues, and ensure that they are talked about every day and are at the top of everyone’s agenda.
5. Bombard people with information on future opportunities, on the wonderful rewards for capitalizing on those opportunities, and on the organization’s current inability to pursue those opportunities
Make the pain and shortcomings visible. This will serve to incite people to ask why, and this will activate their competitive streak to try to go after these market opportunities. Urgency increased! Creating a sense of urgency plants the seeds of successful change.