Help Guide: Creating a Sense of Urgency in Your Business Transformation
You may have noticed that we have a tendency to put things off, to procrastinate and get distracted, even when we believe that taking a certain action would be in our best interest. Some personal examples may include: losing a few pounds, changing jobs, ending a relationship that’s not working for us or achieving a goal we’ve set ourselves, such as taking up a new hobby. Things we feel we should do but end up not doing. We give ourselves the excuses, too busy, not enough money etc or we’ll do it tomorrow, next month, next year…and then it doesn’t happen.
Then in some cases we have a moment, the moment where we say, that’s it! Enough, I’m no longer prepared to accept this. The idea that we should do something becomes a must, a non negotiable and something that must happen starting now, then that’s when everything changes. And if that’s true at a personal level then it also stands to reason that it’s true at work too, except that we’re now talking about groups of people, each coming to that decision.
So as a company executive, looking to drive a successful business transformation, it’s going to take more than just a vision; it demands a sense of urgency that permeates throughout the organization. The idea that things should change has to become a must change. And that needs to happen at scale, otherwise the day to day distractions and excuses will ultimately slow down or stop change happening altogether.
This help guide offers a few practical strategies to help you to create and sustain a sense of urgency, emphasizing its importance in ensuring a smooth and effective transformation. We’ve also included examples of companies that have successfully instilled urgency to achieve remarkable results.
Why Does a Sense of Urgency Matter?
Here are just a few examples of why a sense of urgency is critical to transformation:
Breaking through inertia: Urgency motivates your teams to embrace change willingly, fostering a culture of adaptability and innovation within the organization. It takes the focus away from the mundane realities of live to a place where people are more ready to let go, to put aside any differences.
Accelerated decision-making: A sense of urgency enables faster decision-making, avoiding procrastination and overthinking. It forces everyone across the organisation to a place of action and a can-do attitude, allowing you to respond more promptly to market changes and capitalise on opportunities.
Employee engagement: When employees truly understand the urgency of transformation, they naturally become more engaged, proactive, and committed to driving positive outcomes. They are less likely to get bogged down in the detail, becoming more solution oriented, more innovative and less focused on what can’t be done. This can also become a compelling draw for the most talented resources because they will see opportunities where they can grow and develop.
Competitive edge: Businesses that create and maintain a sense of urgency are far less likely to rest on past successes, they are more agile and forward-thinking, giving them a competitive edge in a rapidly evolving marketplace.
A Few Strategies to Consider:
Bring the outside in: Regularly share data and insights on market trends, competitors, and emerging technologies to demonstrate the ongoing urgency for change, emphasising the pace. Ensure that everyone across the organisation understands the bigger picture and why they must act now.
Example: Blockbuster is a great example of what happens when a market shifts and an organisation doesn’t respond quickly enough. They were even offered the chance to buy Netflix and refused, they ignored the rise of online streaming services and this ultimately led to their downfall.
Set Ambitious Goals and Milestones: Establish time-bound and challenging goals aligned with the transformation strategy. This is important because we’re trying to foster creative thinking and innovation. That tends to happen when people can’t rely on their normal way of doing things, in essence they are forced to get creative and break down perceived barriers. Consider the impact of the recent pandemic where the normal creation time for a new vaccine was 12 years and it was achieved in just one. The saying necessity is the mother of invention was in high evidence there and a sense of urgency was the key.
Example: In the early days Tesla’s ambitious production targets for electric vehicles, driven by Elon Musk, were both notorious and critical for driving the high pace of innovation. This resulted in them being years ahead in the EV market, a lead which the other manufacturers are still battling to close.
Make it real: If the message is saying one thing and the actions are not in alignment then this will cause inertia and a lack of belief, in other words all words and no action. Changing the physical environment can be one useful tool to make it feel more real and emphasise the external reality.
Example: In “The Heart of Change” John Kotter gives the example of an executive floor which was both large and very opulent, it was completely incongruent with the future vision of becoming a low-cost producer. Taking this onboard the new CEO completely dismantled the executive floor, making it much more visually and functionally in line with a low cost producer. The “rich men’s club” was gone and the message was clear.
Empower change champions: Identify influential change advocates within the organisation who can inspire others and actively drive a sense of urgency every day. Changing mindsets takes time and effort and previous success has a habit of making complacency and protectionism habits that are hard to shake. Consistently emphasising the urgency in all communications helps the message to stick, especially when taken alongside the other suggestions.
Example: GE’s Change Agents Program – General Electric established a Change Agents program to empower employees to lead transformational initiatives, fostering a culture of urgency and innovation.
Foster Experimentation and Learning: Encourage a culture of experimentation, where failure is seen as a stepping stone to success. Organize hackathons, workshops, and training sessions to promote continuous learning and see failure as part of that learning, to be openly discussed and encouraged not career limiting and something to be hidden and avoided.
Example: Google’s 20% Time – Google’s policy of allowing employees to spend 20% of their work time on personal projects led to the creation of ground-breaking products like Gmail and Google Maps.
Creating a sense of urgency is a pivotal element in driving a successful business transformation. By effectively communicating a compelling vision, sharing market insights, setting ambitious milestones, empowering change champions, and fostering a culture of experimentation, executives can cultivate a heightened sense of urgency within their organizations. Companies like Apple, Tesla, and Google have demonstrated the transformative power of urgency, propelling them to remarkable success.
Conveying a sense of urgency based on well-researched and accurate information ensures that the business transformation is seen as a matter of survival and success, not just something that the leaders have decided. That makes it so much easier to motivate employees and stakeholders to let go of their short term distractions and embrace change willingly.