How Can You Create A Sense Of Urgency?

An associate recently asked me what I thought of the following statement, “To create a sense of urgency in employees, push them outside their comfort zones.” When I think about this statement, it’s really about motivating people. How does a leader motivate people to take immediate, earnest action?

The fact is that most employees are taking immediate action on something. They are in fact pursuing some things with a sense of urgency. So for most employees the challenge is not to create a sense of urgency. The challenge is to motivate employees to demonstrate a sense of urgency about the things on which you think they should focus.

I’m reminded of the advice of my mentor, Sigi Brauer, “Make your boss’s priorities your own.” Among the most important things a leader can do are setting direction and articulating the values of the organization. If you haven’t clearly articulated your goals and values, how does an employee know where to focus her energy? How can she know what to have a sense of urgency about?

Even if you’ve clearly articulated your goals and values, immediate priorities shift continuously. In the luxury hotel business, where I spent many years, we had daily meetings throughout the hotel to inform employees about our current situation and what we needed a sense of urgency about. For instance, Is the plumbing broken? What VIP’s are we expecting? Is the union about to call a strike? Are labor costs too high? There’s always something about which employees should have a sense of urgency.

Absent real time information about the immediate challenges faced by your organization, how can an employee possibly know how to focus his sense of urgency? As a leader you have information not available to employees, and you have a perspective about the big picture that they cannot possibly have. Absent that perspective they might not recognize the importance of an event.

So as a leader you can help employees understand what’s going on and what it means to your organization. Then you can call them to action. You can ask for a sense of urgency and you’ll get it.  You won’t have to push them outside their comfort zones.

One final point. Many employees (and leaders!) are burdened by too many “number one” priorities, about which they are expected to demonstrate a sense of urgency. This is a failure of leadership. If everything is a “number one” priority, nothing is. This definitely pushes people outside their comfort zones, but it doesn’t increase their sense of urgency. It leads to despair, because they know they can’t meet those expectations. They disengage. Don’t do this to your people.

Thanks for reading. As always, I’m interested in your thoughts.

Larry Sternberg

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