What makes a successful organization? What allows an organization to win in a very competitive and fast-changing environment? Vision is undoubtedly important. A clearly defined picture of a brighter future is compelling and motivating. Yet most organizations fail because they miss one of the most crucial components to success – generating a true sense of urgency.
So, how does one enact authentic urgency within their organization?
I’ve lost count of how many organizations I’ve been invited to address to help kick off a new strategic initiative…only to have the leader put everyone asleep with a dizzying array of PowerPoint slides. It’s not that analysis, graphs, and outlines are unimportant. The problem is that it’s all intellectual information – all head and no heart.
Whether you strive to be the world’s most efficient bank, the most compassionate hospital, or the most service-oriented hotel…feelings are more influential than thoughts when it comes to affecting change. There’s an expression: “Great leaders win over the hearts and minds of others”. It is undeniable – heart certainly comes first.
My colleague, Harvard Professor Dr. John Kotter (and author of the best-selling book, A Sense of Urgency) states that the goal should be “not mindless emotion” but rather, “folding a rational case directed toward the mind into an experience that is very much aimed at the heart.”
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is a perfect example. On August 28, 1963, King addressed millions using a passionate plea over a mind-based speech. His fervent words struck the hearts of those listening, which motivated positive action across the country. King spoke of a dream where his children would “…one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” His words were emotional, passionate, and descriptive. His imagery inspired action, increased hope, and initiated the necessary change to enact the Civil Rights bill.
True urgency, as described by Dr. Kotter, creates in people a deeply felt determination to succeed. It’s a set of behaviors and actions that are exceptionally alert, externally oriented, internally aligned, and relentlessly aimed at making progress every day. True Urgency generates in people what we call Go! Attitudes. Go! Attitudes are focused on motivation over complacency and false urgency, and the desire to go beyond the status quo.
When it comes to maintaining true urgency on a daily basis, the little things really matter. Seemingly innocent ‘Killer Phrases’ stop us from making progress. They’re examples of the type of language that can seem insignificant at the time, but when looked at cumulatively, can have a detrimental effect on everyone’s adaptability, tenacity, and passion. They exemplify the sort of complacent thinking that we’re trying to avoid in favor of true urgency.