It was John Kotter who highlighted the need for urgency when making organisational change. Without a sense of urgency v complacency needed fuelled by a desire to meet objectives, it is likely that change objectives will be missed and, in the worst case scenario, the company will fail. It is when complacency takes hold – usually by way of an inherited corporate culture – that an organisation is at most danger. However, Kotter also recognised that urgency must be ‘real’. Defining this reality requires examination of the differences between complacency and true and false urgency.
The DNA of urgency v complacency
Often complacency has its roots in success. Take Kodak as an example. Despite its innovative nature, the company’s management failed to take the lead in the digital photographic revolution. Its people had even developed the world’s first digital camera, but its executives failed as soon as they took the decision to work to the ‘status quo’: it was convinced that competition would never steal away its market dominance. Kodak displayed all the signs of complacency:
- It didn’t see the dangers to its existence
- It relied on past success to drive its future
- It relied on facts and data that supported its point of view, rather than allow its point of view to be shaped by facts
- It had a strategy with no real purpose
- It failed to lead
When Kodak was desperate for a change management strategy, it was blinded by a culture of complacency.
False urgency in focus
Given that complacency is a root cause of change management failure, it is clear that organisational change must be led by instilling a sense of urgency across all divisions and employees. However, almost as bad as inherent complacency is a false sense of urgency.
Such a situation is characterised by a lack of purpose in change management activities. There appears to be a lot going on, but nothing is really achieved:
- There is fear of the future
- Meetings lead to more meetings
- Reports are written and rewritten
- Mini projects are started on a daily basis
- People expend plenty of energy with frenzied activity
Most interestingly, perhaps, is that this false sense of urgency shares its lack of purpose and use of selective data as common clauses with complacency.
Real urgency in the change management process
Real urgency exists when activities are managed to address important issues. This urgency exists as a constant factor, driving follow through. Processes and procedures are iterated, reviewed, and revised. It is this true sense of urgency that replaces complacency and drive meaningful organisational change. You’ll know that your organisation’s complacent culture has been replaced with future-changing urgency if you observe a new culture that includes:
- A focus on success
- Awareness of opportunity
- Awareness of dangers to the business, caused by competition or the economy
- Leadership drives progress to opportunities and with vision
- All activities are conducted with purpose
The classic change management mistake
Many companies mistake a false urgency with real urgency. There is a lot of activity going on, but underneath the surface there is not a lot happening. People are rushing around, meeting at every opportunity, and may believe that what they are doing is working toward the new future. However, such activity serves no real purpose other than to make people too busy to affect real change. Avoiding this classic change management mistake will make your organisational change more focussed and increase its chances of success immeasurably. Understanding the difference between the two types of urgency and complacency is the first step in the creation of an urgent culture. In my next article I’ll look at four effective strategies to create real urgency in every employee.