John Kotter makes a good case that urgency is the key ingredient in any organizational transformation. Conversely, the lower the urgency, the higher the likelihood that the firm will collapse or fail or not transform in a way that will enable it to win in a changing marketplace. Kotter does something else that is interesting: he defines True Sense of Urgency, Complacency, and False Sense of Urgency. This was very instructive.
While the Venn Diagram below is not his rendering but mine, the content and idea is from his book:
So, Kotter, argues:
- A True Sense of Urgency is “Urgent activity, action which is alert, fast moving, focused on the important issues, relentless, and continuously purging irrelevant activities, and leading other by example …”
- Complacency is “Unchanging activity, action which ignores an organization’s new opportunities or hazards, focuses inward (navel gazing – not Kotter’s term, but mine), does whatever has been the norm in the past, supports and defends the status quo, asleep-at-the-wheel quality to it …”
- A False Sense of Urgency is “Frenetic activity, meeting-meeting, writing-writing, going-going, projects-projects – and none of it is purposeful …”
The mistake most companies make is confusing False Sense of Urgency with True Sense of Urgency. I completely agree with Kotter on this point. To deconfuse this point, I created the Venn Diagram above and found it helpful in delineating between True and False Sense of Urgency – in which ways are they similar and in which ways are they different. The same goes for Complacency.
Here is what is interesting. Complacency and False Sense of Urgency are closer than we think, but Complacency and True Sense of Urgency share no attributes at all.
A True Sense of Urgency is required for ANY turnaround – a project, a division, a family, or a company.
A True Sense of Urgency is required for ANY turnaround – a project, a division, a family, or a company. Knowing the behavioral difference between True and False Sense of Urgency and Complacency is helpful for any change agent and leader who is in the service of mobilizing people to win together.