Create a sense of urgency for organisational change

9 July, 2019
Sense of urgency

Employ urgency to create meaningful change

In 2008, an IBM global study of more than 1,000 CEOs and leaders of public and private institutions, ‘The Enterprise of the Future, examined the nature of organisational change. It showed that organisations were bombarded with change but lacked a sense of urgency. CEOs also predicted that the rapid rate of change would accelerate. This prediction has been proven, largely due to developments such as digital, online and artificial intelligence.

This rapidity of change creates real-world challenges for organisations. What ignites employee engagement in the process of change?


Why must you create a sense of urgency for employee engagement?

In his eight-step change management model, John Kotter puts urgency as the first stage. Indeed, in a Harvard Business Review article from June 1995, Kotter cites ‘not establishing a great enough sense of urgency’ as the number one error in unsuccessful change initiatives.

We believe that both Prosci (who cited a lack of awareness as the number one reason for resistance to change) and Kotter are right. Awareness and urgency go hand in hand when strategising for employee engagement in change:

  • Awareness is the realisation that change is necessary
  • Urgency is the emotion that makes change happen

(Read our article “If employees aren’t aware of the need for organisational change, it won’t happenfor more insight.)

For example, a person may be aware that smoking is bad for their health, yet it is difficult to break the habit. They do so because they become engaged in changing by a sense of urgency – perhaps a wake-up call from a health check, a realisation that their breathing is becoming laboured, or the death of a loved one because of a smoking-related illness.

In the context of organisational change, successful execution requires complete employee engagement. Without a sense of urgency, change doesn’t happen.


In a rapidly changing world, a sense of urgency is constantly recreated

Urgency is a good habit to foster. It is a key ingredient in employee engagement and getting things done. Complacent organisations may be competent, but they eventually fail. One of the most famous examples is Kodak. The market leader in photography, with a global share in photographic film estimated at around 75%, failed to adapt to the advance in digital photography. It was convinced that its customers would stay loyal.

Kodak was aware of the new technology, but had no sense of urgency to change. By the time that sense of urgency burst into life, Kodak was a market laggard. It was too late. Kodak eventually withered and died, a victim of its own complacency and lack of urgency.

Today, with such rapid change, it is necessary to continually recreate the urgency needed for employee engagement in constant change. If you don’t adapt fast, others will roar past you. Unless you create a sense of urgency each time change is needed, your organisation will not move fast enough. It won’t have the cooperation of its people.


Don’t mistake activity for urgency

A common mistake that organisations make is to believe that the more activity that is taking place the greater the sense of urgency. This false sense of urgency is almost as bad as complacency and is characterised by a lack of purpose. Despite the ceaseless activity, very little is being achieved:

  • Meetings beget more meetings
  • Reports are written and rewritten
  • Small projects are started daily

The lack of purpose manifests in plenty of energy and feverish activity, but little meaningful employee engagement, as fear of the future creates a roadblock to organisational change. As with complacency, data is used selectively as evidence that the level of activity is forging progress. In reality, the status quo is being maintained by a workforce without purpose.


Making the cultural shift to urgency for change management success

Real urgency exists when employee engagement activities are connected to your organisational purpose. It is a constant factor that exists through all transformations. This sense of urgency replaces complacency. It drives meaningful organisational change. To engender a cultural shift to one that embodies a sense of urgency, an organisation should encourage its leaders and people to:

  • Focus on success
  • Be aware of opportunities
  • Be mindful of internal and external dangers to the business
  • Undertake all activities with purpose

In his book ‘The Road Ahead, Bill Gates describes how Microsoft’s employees always thought of themselves as being on the losing side. This created employee engagement with the desire to be number one. It was this desire that forged the purpose that created a state of constant urgency.

Turning to John Kotter to sum up. He advises organisations to “value the capacity to appreciate unexpected opportunities. This focus results in work that is highly leveraged, meaningful work, a culture that is satisfying to heart and mind, and an organization that continues to succeed in a changing world.

To learn how the Learning Map could help you to improve your organisation’s effectiveness in organisational change management, get in touch with The Big Picture People today.

(See how putting people in the picture creates a sense of urgency, and helps reinvigorate existing vision and accelerate the achievement of organisational goals, in this case study.)

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