Combat Complacency by Creating a Sense of Urgency

This is the second article in the series Becoming a change Leader.  For an overview of the 8 steps to Becoming a Change Leader, read the first article here.

“Without a sense of urgency, desire loses its value” – Jim Rohn.

Everyone is capable of demonstrating true urgency, but most organizations are filled with people who plod along, day after day, assuming everything is ok.  These people are complacent. Complacency is commonly the result of previous success within the organization. Complacency comes from the belief that an organization is high performing without verifying that it truly is. While success is a good thing, too much of it can lull people to sleep.  (Don’t believe me that everyone can act with urgency? Pull the fire alarm and see how much urgency people have.  Just kidding… Don’t do this!!).

When people are complacent, they quit looking for a way to improve processes. They are comfortable with how things are going. They live as if nothing is ever going to change. Policies, procedures, and best practices that are “set in stone” encourage people to be complacent. Complacency leads to denial of problems and kill-the-messenger syndrome. It quickly creates a “we know best” culture within the organization.

While complacency tends to destroy an organization from the inside, having a false urgency can be just as damaging. Complacently prevents improvements from starting, but false urgency pushes people to act too quickly. Actions tend to be knee-jerk reactions driven by fear and anxiety. False urgency can place unachievable or arbitrary dates on people. People in the organization might be busy, but nothing gets done. When pushed by false urgency, people spend less time and energy fixing problems and more time trying to protect themselves. False urgency can quickly create a C.Y.A. culture.

Somewhere in the middle exists a real sense of urgency. People with a real sense of urgency relentlessly look for ways to improve and fix their organization. These changes might be small, but they exist. People with a real sense of urgency look for ways to remove work that adds little to no value. They strive to accomplish something important every day. To encourage a true sense of urgency, try the following tactics.

Practice Urgency Every Day – Begin the day looking for something to fix or improve. At first, this might seem difficult. After a while,  you will see improvement opportunities everywhere. Prioritize the improvements and work on the ones you can influence. However, some things you will not be able to fix.

Look Outside –  No, I don’t mean out the window. Look outside of your organization. Bring people in from outside. Find ways to compare your progress with other organizations. You might discover that others are much more efficient than you or have better ideas. Ask fellow workers how your current organization compares with other places they worked, and be prepared to hear the truth.

Find Opportunity in a Crisis – Eventually a true crisis will come. Every crisis is either an enemy or an ally. Properly utilized, a crisis can be used to point out complacency to the organization and lead to a true urgency to fix the underlying issues.  Focus on a “win-win” solution and don’t become an “I told you so.”

Deal with the No-Nos – Every organization has no-nos. They are the people with the list of reasons why the current situation is fine and doesn’t need to be fixed. Most no-nos are not intentionally trying to be difficult; they truly believe that change is not needed. If you don’t deal with them, their complacency will become contagious and can kill any sense of urgency. Try to remove or minimize their influence over the change. Remember that you can disagree with their beliefs but still treat them with respect.

Remember, a sense of urgency isn’t something you create once and forget. A sense of urgency is something that you need to work on every day. Just as you need to exercise on a regular basis to stay healthy, you need to commit to building a sense of urgency before leading change.

What is one thing you are going to do today to start building a sense of urgency?

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