In his bestselling book, A Sense of Urgency, John Kotter examines an issue that I believe is critical to every organization. The issue is how business leaders can create a high sense of urgency among a large enough group of people to alertly look for new opportunities or hazards facing their organizations.
In earlier posts, we have discussed the concept of Dissatisfaction. We pointed out that in order for any organization to sustain a change process, dissatisfaction had to be very high – at least 8 on a 10-point scale. While Kotter doesn’t suggest a point scale, his concept of Urgency is very similar to what we describe as Dissatisfaction.
Kotter writes about his earlier research findings based on analysis of 100 organizations who had set about to make large-scale change. I find the results of his research both incredible and disturbing. He found that in over 70 percent of these organizations the planning was never fully launched, plans were abandoned, or changes were achieved but only with great frustration. He also found that in 10 percent of the organizations, more was achieved than thought possible. What I found interesting was that in each of the ’10 percent’ organizations specific actions were taken early to create a sufficiently high sense of urgency.
Kotter was often asked, “What is the single biggest error people make when they try to make change?” Kotter’s answer always was, “They did not create a high enough sense of urgency among enough people to set the stage for making a challenging leap into some new direction.”
The opposite of urgency, he writes, is not only complacency, but a false or misguided sense of urgency. Complacency is all too common and most of us would feel that recognizing its existence in an organization is not all that difficult. A false sense of urgency, however, can easily be mistaken for real urgency. You witness frenzied action and assume that it is true urgency and move ahead. But then planning teams underperform, action plans are never implemented and people get thrown under the bus. In our next post, we will review four tactics that Kotter suggests to increase your sense of urgency.