Have you noticed that the people who make things happen in this world value and share a similar sense of urgency? A sense of urgency can be an allusive trait, and hard to pinpoint and train in employees. Ideally, it shouldn’t be panicked or anxious, your clients will pick up on that and feel rushed or unsettled. Instead, you want a sense of urgency in your staff that is enthusiastic and engaged.
Regardless of what people aim to achieve, whether in sport, business or otherwise, those who set themselves apart from the rest maintain a sense of urgency in order to be the best they can be. They choose not to disconnect from what they are aiming to achieve, and they pursue it – regardless of what anyone else thinks or says – because their sense of urgency is an integral part of who they are.
One striking observation has been the lack of any sense of urgency among some people that organizations rely upon to contribute to their transformation. Sometimes this is due to the fact that these folks have only lived in an operational mode, and stepping into a delivery mode is an alien concept that they need to adopt. But other times even some “delivery professionals” demonstrate complacency and a lack of any real sense of urgency.
According to Gallup’s 2016 State of the American Workplace Report, only 33 percent of employees are actively committed to doing a good job. Fifty-one percent merely put their time in, while the remaining 16 percent act out their discontent in counterproductive ways, negatively influencing others.
Gallup grouped the surveyed staff into these three categories:
2. Not Engaged Employees
3. Actively Disengaged Employees
A true sense of urgency is rare:
“it is not the natural state of affairs. It has to be created and recreated.” So the task of leading a team of people in a transformation at any level will often require an ability to create an atmosphere of urgency that can be embraced, and in turn bring about an atmosphere of achievement.
A sense of urgency is rare, which is why leaders need to step up and address that fact; because without it, mediocrity prevails and mediocrity is not the stuff that successful transformation is made of. Instead, it’s a key ingredient for failure.
How can you create a better sense of urgency in your team?
1. Act in proportion to the urgency
Leaders communicate by their example. As a leader, ask yourself: Do you react to all problems with the same level of intensity or do you differentiate according to the situation? The intensity of your reactions ought to be in direct proportion to the importance of what is at stake.
The most common intensity problem for leaders is showing too much emotion too often. Reacting out of proportion to even the smallest of items whiplashes a team. Emotional exhaustion often yields a quiet cynicism — there he goes again! Alternatively, leaders who frequently show very little emotion may cause their respective teams to wonder what the leader is thinking. As a result, the team is left guessing as to what is at stake in the situation.
2. Use urgency to persevere toward victory despite the pain
Like a child touching a hot stove, urgency declines or improves in an organization in proportion to the organization’s capacity to properly perceive the pain/performance connection. Urgency provides a kind of physiological fusion of mind and heart, intellect and will for focused and targeted action. Urgency helps us push through pain rather succumb to it. You, the leader, must be able to bring these parts together to help your team understand what is at stake.
3. Dress comfortably cold
Set the conditions for your team to be able to respond with a sense of urgency. As a young soldier, prior to one winter-warfare training mission, my battalion commander looked me over and noticed too many layers of clothing. “DeMarco,” he barked, “Dress comfortably cold. Things are going to start moving quickly. With all that clothing under your gear you will overheat.” Hours later I was sweating in subzero temps. I went from grumbling to grateful for the directive.
As a leader, you have to assess if your team is too cozy to respond effectively to urgent situations. That phrase, “dress comfortably cold” is a powerful metaphor for keeping your team sharp and able to respond timely when things heat up.
There are simple ways to practice keeping things comfortably cold. For example, examine the kinds of meetings taking place. Are meeting roles assigned? Agendas produced before the meeting? Many meetings waste time. In fact, a not-so-insignificant number should be standing meetings (literally without chairs).
Remember, the status quo sets in when a group loses its intensity. Employees stop feeling the sting of competitive winds and storms. One day, these businesses wake up… out in the cold.