Design an effective leadership culture to ignite a sense of urgency

30 July, 2019
Leadership culture

Tactics for success in change management

Urgency in change management is critical to success. It establishes what is important and focuses hearts and minds on what must be done to achieve vision. When purpose is linked to urgency, activity ceases to be driven by fear and takes on a new meaning.

As we’ve discussed in previous articles, to create a sense of urgency for employee engagement in organisational change it is essential that an organisation eliminates complacency and ensures that all activity has a purpose. The role played by an organisation’s leaders and managers in these objectives is mission-critical. In this article, we outline a leadership culture that our experience has taught us helps organisations to embed meaningful urgency required for effective change management.


Is your leadership culture falling short?

All organisations have leadership cultures. Most of these are unwritten, with management procedures and practices handed down through the organisational “memory”. However, technological and societal advances mean that many traditional leadership cultures no longer work effectively.

When focusing on the need for urgency, there are many clues that your current leadership culture is not working. These red flags include:

  • A culture of blame
  • Indecisive decision-making
  • Long studies and task forces
  • Missed deadlines

Such red flags are indicative of either complacency or false urgency:

  • A complacent organisation is satisfied with its current state, with a leadership culture that encourages managers to present reasonable explanations for a lack of action. As highlighted by cases such as Kodak’s demise, complacency is often rooted in a history of success.
  • False urgency is evident where there is a lot of activity, but very little (or none) is meaningful. The leadership culture here often creates an environment in which conflict is rife, meetings are the focus of daily proceedings and people are working tirelessly with no real sense of purpose.


The change-focused leadership culture

For change to be successful, leaders must communicate a vision that captures the hearts and minds of their people. This communication uses experience and future opportunity to engage employees on an emotional and rational level. When the future becomes more attractive than the status quo, the vision is given purpose.

The following four management strategies will help you shape a leadership culture that develops a sense of urgency, with a new feeling of purpose and belief in your vision.


1. Connect internal reality to external opportunity

Many leaders become so engrossed in internal issues that they fail to see opportunities in their market environment. Focusing on external opportunities helps to eliminate complacency, as it requires scrutiny of future possibilities instead of reflection on previous success. Here are five activities your leaders should encourage amongst employees:

       i. Listen to customer-facing employees

Those who work in customer-facing roles benefit from a unique perspective of your organisation’s products and services. They know exactly what your customers think. Encourage leaders, managers and employees to listen to customer-facing staff and they will learn much about your future.

     ii. Discuss data honestly

Don’t try to protect employees from bad data. Instead, be honest and discuss openly. Use data to motivate new ideas and create a sense of purpose to change; like Bill Gates at Microsoft, helping his staff to always strive to be better and achieve number one in their market.

    iii. Encourage collaboration

Both internally and externally, encourage employees to have a wider focus and to see the big picture. Send employees from manufacturing and finance to sit in on sales meetings. Ensure that sales staff understand the manufacturing process and the issues that product customisation may cause.

    iv. Bring external influence to your internal platforms

Invite customers and suppliers to be present at internal events. Having a customer sit in on a team meeting lets your people receive information and stories directly. It also confirms that your organisation is focused on external opportunities and influences.

     v. Share data effectively

Shared correctly, data can excite and enthuse people. It can motivate creativity and innovation. Consider what data is relevant and how to share it so that it is digested meaningfully. Make it interesting and enjoyable. People soon tire of a bland diet of data. When you share data with excitement and insight, you create a desire to learn more.


2. Act with a sense of urgency every day

When strategising to create a sense of urgency, the leadership culture must include leaders acting with a sense of urgency. People follow their leader’s example. Tactics that can be used to evidence everyday urgency include clearing diaries, removing low-priority tasks, delegation, and setting tasks and actions expected after every meeting.

Remember, you don’t have to be engaged in frenetic activity to be focused on urgency.


3. Be positive to opportunities in crisis

“There are no problems, only opportunities.” When crisis hits, how leaders react determines how their teams behave. By remaining positive in time of crisis, employees learn to view the future with excitement and not fear. Minds are often ruled by hearts. Fear and excitement are emotional states that dictate thought processes – fearful people are more likely to resist change.

Ensure that your leadership culture focuses on opportunities, with considered and not impulsive reactions that benefit from high-level sponsorship.


4. Deal with resistors

Most organisations have naysayers – employees who are highly resistive to change. They will challenge new ideas and obstruct a culture of urgency. Traditional leadership cultures suggest either co-opting such employees to tasks or excluding them. Neither tactic is successful.

It is important not to confuse sceptics with naysayers. Sceptics can bring different perspectives to a conversation, inform decision-making and help shape lower-risk actions. They are open to discussion, innovation and creativity. Naysayers act with a closed mind. They cannot be persuaded or influenced.

Your leadership culture must be empowered to deal with naysayers. There may be some tough decisions to take, such as calling out unacceptable behaviour, demotion or termination.


In summary

Creating a sense of urgency is not negotiable. It is critical in an environment in which change is not only constant, but rapid. It is imperative that your leadership culture empowers your leaders to embed a sense of urgency in your organisational culture.

The conundrum is that while a sense of urgency is necessary for successful change, success itself can breed complacency and destroy the sense of urgency. The key is for the leadership culture to focus on a sense of urgency and leaders to act with urgency constantly. Communicating vision and purpose effectively will engage employees in meaningful work and help your organisation to maintain success in a constantly 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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