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In our previous post, we introduced John Kotter’s bestselling book, A Sense of Urgency.  Now we will continue with some of Kotter’s advice for dealing with complacency. 
Kotter suggests four tactics for increasing urgency:

  1. Bring the outside in.  Organizations of any size tend to be too internally focused. When your people do not see the potential opportunities and hazards facing the organization, their complacency grows.  And with more success, a “we know best” culture easily develops.  Helping your people see problems that threaten jobs or career opportunities can decrease complacency and increase urgency.  Likewise, helping them see new possibilities and opportunities that might increase job security, career advancement, bonuses and customer satisfaction can help leaders and managers more successfully create positive energy and a call to action.
  2. Behave with urgency every day.  The constantly changing environment in organizations requires leaders to be always alert and agile.  This means that leaders have to model a sense of urgency all the time.  The most common excuse I hear for why things don’t get done is, “I just don’t have the time.”  We all tend to be busy, but doing what?  In order to model the urgency that is so desperately needed in your organization, you have to be relentless about eliminating low-priority items from your daily tasks.  The Pareto Principle – better known as the 80/20 Rule – suggests that 20 percent of the tasks you do generate 80 percent of your value to the organization.  What does that say about the other 80 percent of the tasks you are performing?  Don’t be trapped in a set of habits that were important earlier in your career but are now low-value items for your current position.  Purge and delegate.  Be consistent and do what you say you are going to do.  Go out of your way to be visible with your people – help them to understand the need for urgency with your words and your actions.
  3. Find opportunity in crises.  Kotter used the metaphor of a “burning platform” to describe his view of crises.  Within his burning platform logic, he suggests that, “Complacent organizations are the real danger.  But even people who are most solidly content with the status quo will begin to act differently if a fire starts on the floor beneath their feet.”  What he is suggesting is that when a crisis occurs, see it as an opportunity to create urgency and mobilize the action needed to better prepare the organization for the future. 
  4. Deal with the ‘NoNos’.  Kotter describes ‘NoNos’ as highly skilled urgency killers.  Every organization has at least one, but some organizations may have many.  NoNos will do nearly anything to discredit the people who are trying to create a sense of urgency. The book suggests three solutions for dealing with NoNos.  First, keep them actively distracted with challenging assignments – preferably outside the office.  The second is to get them out of the organization. The third is to expose their behavior in ways which will allow social peer pressures to stop it.  But whatever you do, don’t ignore the NoNos.

It stands to reason that if an organization can create a sense of urgency and then maintain it over time, it has the potential for very high performance.  In such organizations, innovation flourishes, there is pride and excitement, and the economic rewards increase across the organization. 
Urgency or Dissatisfaction, call it what you want.  How would you describe your organization?  Do you have a true sense of urgency?  Or is status quo good enough? 

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