John P. Kotter’s book “A Sense of Urgency” provides four (4) tactics to jumpstart change in your organization. However, the most compelling reason to read the book is to internalize the distinction between a true and a false sense of urgency. One is high in activity; the other high in achievement. One capitalizes on crises; the other is paralyzed by them.
Few would argue that accomplishing a goal quicker is bad. After all, speed allows companies to exploit their advantages and minimize their weaknesses. What good is innovation if you can’t get to market before your competitors?
The problems develop when casual practitioners confuse speed with true urgency. That is, they spend more time and effort on the appearance of activity (false urgency) than they spend accomplishing initiatives which help the business move forward.
To leverage a sense of true urgency one must first develop a sense of direction. Consider this scene between the Alice and the Cheshire Cat in Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.”
“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where – ” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.
“—so long as I get SOMEWHERE,” Alice added as an explanation.
“Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.”
Many customer service teams suffer from such unguided initiatives. They improve a meaningless metric or solve a trivial issue while the game-changers remain unsolved (or worse, unidentified). Here are four ways to avoid false urgency.
- Focus on external competitive forces or customer needs
- Be ruthlessly self-critical with metrics
- Ensure team members are in the right jobs
- Change now
Failing to tackle false urgency has serious repercussions to the long and short-term health of your business. Ask yourself “how long can you afford to walk SOMEWHERE?” How many of your employees will follow you without knowing the destination? And which of your investors (shareholders) will give you the latitude to stumble without direction?
The pivot point is that direction and urgency go hand in hand. Direction without urgency yields no change. Urgency without direction yields change without meaning.
Don’t end up like Alice walking aimlessly through life. Get directions first.