How To Improve Sense Of Urgency

“Small steps to create urgency have a massive impact.”  This statement really caught my eye in a recent blog post from Piper Harris, an Atlanta, GA based leadership coach.

As someone who is naturally action oriented, I have a radar that flashes when I observe a lack of urgency to fix critical problems or to make changes that can have a large and positive impact. It can very frustrating to deal with these delays in action, whether it be with a boss, a colleague, a customer or even with a close friend.

Sense Of Urgency
Sense Of Urgency

How should we define the phrase “sense of urgency”? In his recent book, aptly called A Sense of Urgency,  John P. Kotter shared that “it is a belief that the world contains great opportunities and hazards” and “a gut-level determination to move, and win, now!”.  

Do you have an urgency problem in your organization?

Here are a few symptoms of lack of urgency:

  • Missed business goals with no consequences
  • Missed deadlines with no consequences
  • Target completion dates that appear to be very padded with extra days or weeks
  • Cross-functional project meetings that drag on month after month with no end in sight
  • Too many high level decision makers involved in relatively small decisions

The steps we need to take to create urgency, must not focus on the symptoms, and instead must address the root cause(s). I believe that just telling employees that they need to “have a sense of urgency” is not the best plan. (But, something I have often seen in corporate environments.)

To understand the root cause of a lack of urgency, you may want to ask the question “why” at least three times. Here are a few examples.

Why did Team One miss the business goals with no consequences?

  • They did not understand the goals.
  • Why? Their leader did not communicate the goals to the team in an effective way.
  • Why? Their leader was pulled to focus on an acquisition and has been traveling for several months. The company failed to appoint an interim leader.

Why did the Project Team miss its deadlines with no consequences?

  • They did not take the project deadlines as final.
  • Why? The deadlines were not put in writing.
  • Why? The Project Manager did not include them in the project plan. He also did not clearly communicate why the dates were important.
  • Why? Project Manager is new, and needs leadership training and coaching.

A Bad Attitude Is Like A Lack Of Urgency

I remember attending training with Human Resources early on in my leadership career about addressing “attitude” problems. The bottom line advice was, don’t focus on the attitude problem and instead focus on the behaviors and/or the impact of said behaviors. 

The same advice applies to urgency. Don’t focus on the lack of urgency. Instead, link the lack of urgency to the business results you are trying to achieve. Attack the causes of the business problem, not the symptoms.

Walk The Talk – Your Urgency is Our Urgency

At the start of this blog post, I shared the statement that, “Small steps to create urgency have a massive impact.”  As a leader, one of the most important things that you can do right away is walk the talk. Specifically, begin to demonstrate the behaviors that you want to see in your work environment.  Respond to emails and text messages swiftly. Delivery on commitments early. Use language that explains the why behind your sense of urgency. 

As John Kotter further recommends in his book, “our messaging must convey that the world is changing and the company must move faster to keep up.”

Sense of Urgency Resources

Is sense of urgency a hot topic in your organization? If so, here are some additional resources that you may find helpful.

Four Ways to Increase the Urgency Needed for Change” by John Kotter on Harvard Business Review.

“5 Ways to Create a Necessary Sense of Urgency”, on LeadershipConsulting.com.

20 Ways To Create a Sense of Urgency”, by Rob Llewellyn on LinkedIn.

The Battle Between Activity & Action“, on The Operations Blog.


© 2020, Marci Reynolds. All rights reserved.

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