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A Sense of Urgency – John Kotter

April 30, 2024

A Sense of Urgency

A Sense of Urgency – Book Excerpt (Click on this link for the Word document)


Chapter 1 – It All Starts With A Sense of Urgency

  • …Go check, then you find people running, and they are stressed out. But this man (leader), and almost everyone else around him, is mistaking the enormous amount of activity as a sign of a real sense of urgency. It’s not. It’s just frenetic activity, with people trying to cope with 15 issues, few of which are central to his organization’s success. All this action is exhausting employees and actually killing true and positive urgency.
  • With complacency, no matter what people say, if you look at what they do it is clear that they are mostly content with the status quo.
  • True urgency is driven by a deep determination to win, not anxiety about losing.
  • When people have a true sense of urgency, they think that action on critical issues is needed now, not eventually, not when it fits easily into a schedule. Now means making real progress every single day. Critically important means challenges that are essential to success or survival, winning or losing.
  • It is often believed that people cannot maintain a high sense of urgency over a prolonged period of time, without burnout. Yet with all the alertness, initiative, and speed, true urgency doesn’t produce dangerous levels of stress, at least partially because it motivates people to relentlessly look for ways to rid themselves of chores that add little value to their organizations but clog their calendars and slow down needed action.
  • More processes need to be made more efficient. New work methods and products must be created. Organizations need to be reorganized to focus more on customers or growth. With complacency or false urgency, none of these changes happen fast enough, smart enough or efficiently enough. From years of study, I estimate that today more than 70% of needed change either fails to be launched, even though some people clearly see the need, fails to be completed, even though some people exhaust themselves trying, or finishes over budget, late, and with initial aspirations unmet.


 It All Starts With Urgency

  1. A sense of urgency: Winners first make sure that a sufficient number of people feel a true sense of urgency to look for an organization’s critical opportunities and hazards now.
  2. The guiding team: With a strong sense of urgency, people quickly identify critical issues and form teams that are strong enough, and that feel enough commitment, to guide an ambitious change initiative, even though the team members may already be overworked or overcommitted.
  3. Visions and strategies: Strong and highly committed teams orchestrate the effort to find smart visions and strategies for dealing with key issues – even when the best strategies are elusive.
  4. Communication: High urgency teams inherently feel a need to relentlessly communicate the visions and strategies to relevant people to obtain buy in and generate still more urgency in their organizations.
  5. Empowerment: Those with the true sense of urgency and empower others who are committed to making any vision a reality by removing obstacles in their paths- even if it’s very difficult to remove those obstacles.
  6. Short-term wins: High-Urgency teams guide and empower people to achieve visible, unambiguous short-term wins that silence critics and disarms cynics.
  7. Never letting up: After initial successes, groups where there is a true sense of urgency refused to let the organization slide back into a comfortable complacency. They expand the effort, working on every phase of the challenge, and never let up until the vision is a reality.
  8. Making change stick: High urgency organizations feel compelled to find ways to make sure any change sticks by institutionalizing it into the structure, systems, and, most of all, culture.


  • … We are moving from episodic to continuous change. With this shift, urgency will move from being an important issue every few years to being a powerful asset all the time.


Chapter 2 – Complacency and False Urgency

  • Complacency is not only a thought. It’s very much a feeling. It is usually less a matter of conscious, rational analysis than unconscious emotion.
  • Complacency is a feeling that a person has about his or her own behavior, about what he or she needs to do or not to do.
  • Almost always, complacent individuals do not view themselves as complacent. They see themselves as behaving quite rationally, given the circumstances.


Where does complacency come from?

  • Complacency is almost always the product of success or perceived success. Complacency can live on long after great success has disappeared. Perceptions do not have to be accurate

How did the complacent think?

  • The complacent virtually never think they are complacent. “I’m doing what’s right.” “Sometimes it isn’t easy, but I know what to do and I do it – if I can’t entirely do it, the problem is created over there (in that department, by my boss, by competitors that don’t play fair, etc.).”

What do they feel?

  • At a very basic, gut level, the complacent are content with the status quo. Sometimes they cling to what exists because they are afraid, often irrationally afraid, of the personal consequences of change.

How do the complacent behave?

  • The best way to identify the completion is by what they do instead of what they say (the words can be revealing). The complacent do not alertly look for new opportunities or hazards facing their organizations. They pay much more attention to what is happening internally than externally. They tend to move at 30 miles an hour even when 50 is clearly needed to succeed. They rarely initiate or truly lead. Most of all, they do what has worked for them in the past.

Who can be complacent?

  • The assembly line worker, you, me, our bosses, anybody!
  • Probe with questions, and you will learn that the complacent think that others, and not themselves, are failing to face the challenges and problems. If those others would change, all would be well.
  • While complacency embraces the status quo, false urgency can be filled with new activities.
  • While complacency is built on a feeling that the status quo is basically fine, false urgency is built on a platform of anxiety and anger. Anxiety and anger drive behavior that can be highly energetic- which is why people mistake false for true urgency. But the energy from anger and anxiety can easily create activity, not productivity, and sometimes very destructive activity.


Where does false urgency come from?

  • False urgency is almost always the product of failures or some form of intense pressure that is put on a group.

How do people think?

  • Those with a false sense of urgency do not think that all is well. They may think that the situation they are in is a mess. They may think their boss is applying ridiculous pressure on them..

What do they feel?

  • Those who have a false sense of urgency tend to be very anxious, angry, frustrated, and tired.


  • One source of anger is failed attempts to change in the past.
  • Another source is current difficulties, which people are their fault.
  • With anxiety, people eventually come to worry most about their jobs, their careers, and the future of the workgroups.
  • Just as with people who are complacent, those acting with a false sense of urgency often don’t see it.


Finding Complacency and False Urgency – Useful Questions

  • Are critical issues delegated to consultants or task forces with little involvement of key people?
  • Do people have trouble scheduling meetings on important initiatives (“Because, well, my agenda is so full”)?
  • Is candor lacking in confronting the bureaucracy and politics that are slowing down important initiatives?
  • Do meetings on key issues end with no decisions about what must happen immediately (accept the scheduling of another meeting)?
  • Are discussions very inwardly focused and not about markets, emerging technology, competitors, and the like?
  • Do people spend long hours developing PowerPoint presentations on almost anything?
  • Do people run from meetings to meetings, exhausting themselves and rarely if ever focusing on the most critical hazards or opportunities?
  • Are highly selective facts used to shoot down data that suggests there is a big hazard or opportunity?
  • Do people regularly blame others for any significant problems instead of taking responsibility and changing?
  • Does passive aggression exist around big issues (“Oh, was that due today? I wasn’t told”)?
  • Are failures in the past discussed not to learn but to stop or stall new initiatives?
  • Do people say, “We must act now!” but then don’t act?
  • Do cynical jokes undermine important discussions?
  • Are specific assignments around critical issues regularly not completed on time or with sufficient quality?


Chapter 3 – Increasing True Urgency

  • “Underlying a true sense of urgency is a set of feelings: a compulsive determination to move, and win, now. When it comes to affecting behavior – creating alert, fast-moving options that are focused on an important issue, relentlessly launching needed initiatives or cooperating with the initiatives of others, pushing to achieve more ambitious goals despite the obstacles, trying to achieve progress each and every day, constantly purging low-value activities so that time is available to do all this – feeling are more influential than thoughts.”
  • Mindless and motion is not the point. Generally, the challenge is to fold a rational case directed toward the mind into an experience that is very much aimed at the heart. The winning strategy combines analytically sound, ambitious, but logical goals with methods that help people experience new, often very ambitious goals, as exciting, meaningful, and uplifting-creating a deeply felt determination to move, make it happen, and wind, now.
  • Tactics that aim at the heart, and successfully increase urgency, all seem to have five key characteristics:
    1. They are thoughtfully created human experiences.
      • A brilliant business case, packaged and delivered in the wrong way, can create indifference, suspicion, anger, or cynicism- none of which will produce a sense of urgency to make a group, enterprise or nation prosper.
    2. Effective experiences work appropriately on all our senses.
      • Taken as a whole, they can be compelling, surprising, or dramatic in ways that deeply influence our emotions, and not only the way we think.
    3. The experiences are not designed to create just any emotional reaction
      • They do make people feel that despite past failures, this time they can get it right. They do make people feel that despite creating a difficult situation, a crisis might be a blessing in disguise.
    4. The experiences are rarely, if ever, explained.
      • The point is not to be covert or manipulative. It’s to avoid trying to say explicitly what is difficult to say, it’s difficult for the other person to understand, and does not need to be said.
    5. The experiences almost inevitably lead us to raise our sights, to emotionally embrace goals beyond maintaining the status quo, beyond coping with a difficult situation, beyond incremental adjustments to what we now do. Ultimately, it is the gap between what exists and what you want- not only what you think is logical-and between the reality today and a deeply meaningful aspiration that generates the determination associated with a sense of urgency
  • Neurologists say that our brains are programmed much more for stories than for PowerPoint slides and abstract ideas


Strategies for Increasing Urgency

  • Giving people important facts
    • Excellent information by itself, with the best data and logic, that may define new needs and new (probably ambitious) goals => Can win the minds and thoughts of others, but will rarely win over the hearts and feelings sufficiently to increase needed urgency (and this happens all the time).
  • Winning hearts and minds
    • A logical case that is a part of a heart-engaging experience, using tactics that communicate not only needs but emotionally compelling needs, that communicate not only new stretch goals, but goals that excite and arouse determination = > Can win over the hearts and minds of others and sufficiently increased needed urgency.


  • The most successful tactics people use to increase urgency with heart-head strategies fall into 4 categories:
    1. People dramatically bring outside reality into groups that are too inwardly focused. They do not just collect data and dump it on the individuals or massage valid information into goals and present them on PowerPoint slides. Instead, they create emotionally compelling experiences involving other people, information, and even the right kind of business cases…
    2. They behave with true urgency themselves every single day. They do not just say the right words daily, but more importantly, they make their deeds consistent with their words.
    3. They look for the upside possibilities in crises, but very selectively and with great care. They do not view a crisis as only a threat but also a potential opportunity to destabilize an overly stable organization.
    4. They confront their problem of “NoNos” and do so effectively. They do not accept, as inevitable, that an organization must put up with people who relentlessly create experiences that kill urgency, people whose reaction to any new idea is “No, no, you see…”


Chapter 4 – Bring The Outside In

  • … organizations of any size or age tend to be too internally oriented.
  • An inside-outside disconnect always reduces an organization’s sense of urgency. When people do not see external opportunities or hazards, complacency grows.
  • When people think they have the answers and others don’t, they tend not to pay much attention to those others – especially outsiders – because it seems like a waste of time.
  • An Inwardly focused organization inevitably misses new opportunities and hazards coming from competitors, customers, or changes in the regulatory environment. When you don’t see opportunities or hazards, your sense of urgency drops.



How Success Creates an Inward Focus

  • When people see the external world clearly, it can increase their sense of urgency. Seeing problems that threaten jobs, career opportunities, or pride can decrease complacency and increase urgency.
  • … listen very carefully, and often, to lower-level personnel who interface with customers.
  • One apparent trend today is that more enterprises actually are listening more to frontline personnel.
  • One lesson I have learned again and again is about the power of video when it is honest and human and deals with the topic of importance to individual or organizational performance.
  • “Show them, don’t tell them.” For the most part, we have been taught to tell people the facts, and as logically as possible. But there is another method and one that is arguably more powerful. Show them. Let them see with their own eyes, and not only through aggregated, abstract data. The latter might be more rational… But rational misses the exceptionally important point here about the effect of thinking on behavior versus the effect of emotions on behavior.
  • People resist sharing outside information broadly with managers or employees either because ( 1 ) they believe most people are not smart enough or experienced enough to understand it, (2 ) they worry about being unfairly blamed when the information does not make them look good, ( 3 ) they fear that leaks to analysts and brokers will cause a drop in stock price, and ( 4) they worry that a broader distribution of troubling information will hurt morale, increase turnover, and, in general, turn damaging contentment into even more damaging anxiety and anger.
  • Do you want to risk short-term problems, or do you want to shield people from relevant external information, allow complacency to remain too high, and ultimately undermine an organization’s future?
  • … visuals make a difference. They can signal to us what is happening outside the enterprise. Therefore, look and make sure the signals are accurate.
  • Send out “scouts” who, when they return, bring new information about the world and a newfound determination to do something with that information.
  • A sixth way to bring the outside in is to import people…bring in an internal expert from a university.
  • Bringing in one person with a high sense of urgency rarely helps, because he or she can be ignored by complacent insiders. But an ongoing stream of the right kinds of people can make a difference… Consultants are often imported for a period of time, usually with the explicit task of bringing in outside data, ideas, or wisdom.
  • Gathering data about the external world is the most widely used tactic today for reducing the internal-to-external disconnect. It’s also the most common method that is used poorly or at least in ways that waste its potential.
  • Information can be aggregated in ways that are clear, easy, and efficient to absorb. The simplest forms of information, gathered at virtually no cost, can have a surprisingly useful effect if served in the right way at the right time.
  • … try and experiment with a so-called clipping service… The criteria they used were (1 ) the story was clearly relevant, ( 2 ) the text or video could be read or viewed in less than 10 minutes, ( 3 ) the information seemed credible, and ( 4 ) the information was interesting enough, eye-catching enough, or dramatic enough that people might be drawn to read or view it.
  • Those who do a good job of importing data to their organization:
    1. Someone makes sure that systems exist to collect data on competitors, customers, technological trends, and the like.
    2. At the other extreme, they do not collect and send people information in such volume that it is simply lost among the deluge of memos, reports, and conversations that crowd people’s days. So, they send one article per day from a clipping service that can be read in less than 10 minutes, not 15 articles that would require an hour
    3. they avoid sending information that is so antiseptic that it flows in and out of short-term memory with great speed. Instead, as much as possible, they send data that feels interesting, surprising, or dramatic
    4. They pass on information that is interesting and useful to as many as possible without undue risk. They don’t let hierarchy, a status orientation, or a fear of disclosing troubling information paralyze them in ways that limit information flow and limit possibilities for increasing needed urgency
    5. External reality, mindlessly dumped into an organization, does not automatically create real urgency. It can create anxiety, anger, and dysfunctional flurry of behavior associated with false urgency. It’s usually best to avoid this problem in the first place. But if that is impossible, the challenge is always to convert the false into the true, and with speed.
    6. There are times when the only way to break through cement-like complacency is to blast people’s emotions. Blasted emotions usually turn negative. Then the task is to convert negative to positive as quickly as possible



Chapter 5 – Behave With Urgency Every Day

  • It’s behavior that teaches, encourages, pushes, and rewards others to act in the same way. It’s a lack of mixed signals, where you say one thing but behave differently.
  • All of us send messages constantly. What we say is obviously important. How, when, and where we speak can be even more refilling. People watch how quickly we move on various issues. They notice tone of voice, facial and body movements, they notice details, if only unconsciously, like whether we start meetings on time.
  • Increasingly changing environments create a need for alertness and agility, which demands a sense of urgency that must be modeled by the boss all the time.
  • When you’re going from one meeting to the next, all on different topics, all run inefficiently, attitudes and feelings about the urgency drain out through sheer exhaustion. Clutter undermines true urgency. Fatigue undermines true urgency.
  • A growing wave of urgency can overcome or minimize the damage from one of the most difficult management problems today: the hard-core cynicism that comes from a history of flavor-of-the-month change efforts, from other massive initiatives that have failed, or from a long string of enthusiastic but ineffective top management teams.
  • Real possibilities- if they appeal to ideals inside the heart, and not only the logic of the mind – can build positive feelings and erode negative ones. Eliminating NoNos- those people who hate change and are very clever at fanning the flames of cynicism- can help.


Behave With True Urgency

  • Purge and delegate
    • Stop an overcrowded appointment diary from making it impossible to behave with urgency.
    • Purge low-priority items.
    • Cancel distracting projects.
    • Delegate, delegate, delegate.
    • Do not allow subordinates to delegate up to you.
  • Move with speed
    • Use freed-up time to respond immediately to calls, request for meetings, emails on high-priority issues.
    • Never end meetings without clarity about who will quickly do what and when.
  • Speak with passion
    • relentlessly talk about the need to behave urgently – move, adapt, and stay ahead of the competition.
    • Talk with feeling.
    • Make the feeling infective
  • Match words and deeds
    • don’t just talk about the external world, look at it constantly.
    • Don’t just talk about exploiting new opportunities, do it always.
  • Let them see it
    • Do all of the above and more as visibly as possible to as many people as possible. Let them see your sense of urgency



  • The right attitude might be called urgent patience. That might sound like a self-contradictory term period it’s not. It means acting each day with a sense of urgency but having a realistic view of time.
  • Look at all you do. Ask a trusted aide or colleague to look at all you do. Does your behavior make others feel a true sense of urgency around key issues? Are your actions modeling what you need from others? Do your words match your deeds? The odds are high that you have not been taught to behave the way you now need to behave.


Chapter 6 – Find Opportunity in Crises

  • Most people hold up one of two perspectives on the nature of crises. The first group, by far the larger, sees crises as rather hard events, and for obvious reasons. Crises can hurt people, disrupt plans, or even cripple an organization or community beyond repair. Within organizations, a key component of what is considered good management is crisis avoidance or, if necessary, crisis management and damage control.
  • A very different perspective on the nature of crises is described with the metaphor of a ‘burning platform.” In this view, crises are not necessarily bad and may, under certain conditions, actually be required to succeed in an increasingly changing world. Within this burning-platform logic, complacent organizations are seen to be the real danger, and yet they are exceptionally difficult to change.
  • There are two ways that organizations control behavior to avoid minor problems or huge crises. The first is formal and hard: structures, processes, systems, and rules. The second is informal and soft: peer influence, bosses’ attention, and, most of all, organizational culture.
  • … the problem with all control systems, especially the formal, is that they can overtime become so heavy-handed that they kill any entrepreneurial spirit and make change difficult or impossible they also draw eyes inward – to make sure the laws and rules are being followed – thereby creating a lack of external focus and generating complacency, which leads to more inward focus and so on.
  • … the problem with a damage control mindset is that it is too often applied by people to protect their own careers, and not the reputations of their organizations. Worse still, it eliminates an opportunity, and one of those increasingly important: the opportunity to create a sense of urgency, mobilize needed action, and help an organization prosper in an increasingly challenging world.
  • … some people not only see a terrible problem but actively look for a potential opportunity. They don’t panic and make the situation worse. They don’t automatically go into crisis management mode and hand the reins over to the damage control experts. But they also never assume that an opportunity is guaranteed. Their attitude is not, “Please give me a burning platform, any burning platform.” They clearly realize that angry, panic-stricken, or fearful people may create the frenzy of activity associated with false urgency, which can make a situation even worse.
  • … the big challenge is almost always more a heart problem than a mind problem.
    • The single biggest problem is all in the heart, where fear and anger can kill hope and stop the growth of a true sense of urgency.
    • Take carefully considered action to convert initial anxiety and anger into a determination to act now and win. In this case, carefully considered action means anticipating how others will behave. It means crafting plans that sequence actions for maximum usual effect and generating true urgency.
  • Within the logic of burning platforms, if natural events do not create a crisis, you must. You don’t wait. You don’t hope. You develop a strategy and act. Employed with blind enthusiasm, this idea is not sensible. Used in a judicious way, it can be exceptionally important.
  • I have seen any number of people create crises through a stretch goal… the goals need to be high enough that they cannot possibly be accomplished to a business as usual. The goals also need to make people say “Wow” – but not create a mutiny.
  • I have known people who create crises through bringing-the-outside-in, usually by helping insiders see (and feel) where tremendous hazards (and wonderful opportunities) exist in an entire industry, or because of new technologies, or through legislation.
  • People who try but fail to create urgency by developing crises sometimes engineer situations that others think are not that serious or can be handled with small adjustments.
  • Four Big Mistakes:
    • Assuming that crises inevitably will create the sense of urgency needed to perform better.
    • Going over the line with a strategy that creates an angry backlash because people feel manipulated.
    • Passively sitting and waiting for a crisis (which may never come).
    • Underestimating what the people who would avoid crises at all costs correctly appreciate: that crises can bring disaster.
  • The best evidence available today tells us that crises can be used to create a true urgency if these principles are followed:
    • Always think of crises as potential opportunities and not only dreadful problems that automatically must be delegated to the damage control specialists. A crisis can be your friend.
    • Never forget that crises do not automatically reduce complacency.
    • To use a crisis to reduce complacency, make sure it is visible, unambiguous, related to real business problems, and significant enough that it cannot be solved with small, simple actions.
    • To use a crisis to reduce complacency, be exceptionally proactive in assessing how people will react, in developing specific plans for action, and in implementing the plan swiftly.
    • Plans and actions should always focus on others’ hearts as much as much as or more than their minds. Behaving with passion, conviction, optimism, urgency, and a steely determination will trump an analytically brilliant memo every time.
    • If urgency is low, never patiently wait for a crisis (which may never come) to solve your problems. Bring the outside end. Act with urgency every day.
    • If you are considering creating an urgency-raising crisis, take great care both because of the danger of losing control and because if people see you as manipulative and putting them at risk, they will (quite reasonably) react very badly.
    • If you are at a middle or lower level in an organization and see how a crisis can be used as an opportunity, identify and then work with an open-minded and approachable person in a more powerful position who can take the lead.


Chapter 7 – Deal with NoNos

  • NoNos are highly skilled urgency killers. If they cannot undermine attempts at diminishing a contentment with the status quo, they create anxiety or anger and the flurry of useless activity associated with the false sense of urgency.
  • A NoNo is more than a skeptic. He’s always ready with 10 reasons why the current situation is fine, why the problems and challenges others see don’t exist, or why you need more data before acting.
  • Skeptics, if you don’t have too many of them, can usefully keep enthusiastic, but naive, impulses in check. Skeptics, once they have been convinced their opinions are wrong, can become an initiative’s biggest champions. NoNos are very different. They will often do nearly anything to discredit people who are trying to create a sense of urgency. They will do nearly anything to derail processes that attempt to create change.


  A Skeptic A NoNo
Past Experiences Has never seen instances in which the current relevant issue was a danger or opportunity, or has never seen the issue dealt with particularly well. Is not concerned with the past except as ammunition to shoot down the need for nearly any change today
Desired Data Wants enough information to convince him or her that no action, or some specific course of action, is needed and feasible. Is not willing to take leaps of faith. Doesn’t really want data but hides this fact. In public, keeps demanding more and more “proof” that any new action is needed
Uses of Data For the most part, treats data logically, but often wants a great deal of information. Is usually risk averse. Very selectively chooses information that suggests no action is needed. Is never open minded.
How active or passive Can be either active or passive but is often the latter. Has an attitude of “show me.” Usually, it’s very active out in the open or behind the scenes. Can be highly disruptive.
Bottom Line Can be annoying. Can slow down movement. But also, can be very helpful in keeping naive enthusiasts from creating damage. Reinforces any contentment with the status quo. Raises anxiety. Always kills urgency, stopping needed action. Can be very dangerous.


  • That disruptor (NoNo) is often powerful. The disruptor produces important short-term results, and it is unclear whether anyone else can do as good a job. So, the boss does not act. More often than not, the story ends poorly.
  • Unfortunately, co-opting NoNos almost never works well because the fundamental requirements for co-optation are missing. Regardless of what they say, NoNos are not skeptical but still willing to examine the data. They are not at all inclined to listen to others with an open mind. They won’t accept a majority opinion. They have usually learned all sorts of methods to delay action, to make study groups not function well, and to aggressively use other disruptive tactics, often unconsciously.
  • … And ignored NoNo can create much mischief. He will often relentlessly talk to others, especially open-minded (ironically), the anxious, and anyone who has a grudge against those trying to find new opportunities or avoid new hazards. The talk always contains observations or arguments that could be true… A smart NoNo can always find reasons why the only intelligent course of action is to do what has been done before or, at the most, to take only incremental action.
  • NoNos can, and often do, organize an active resistance movement. Avoiding large-scale confrontations, they tend to work at the margins… Working constantly – as many NoNos do – they can create a small civil war in an organization.
  • Rationally, NoNos should be listening to data and thinking carefully, or else his employer, and his career, could be in jeopardy. But the force behind the behavior of a NoNo is rarely rational. It’s usually based on insecurities: change means risk means anxiety. Or it’s based on anger: “In a just world, I should be in charge, and I am not going to let those who are in charge succeed.”
  • There are three effective solutions for dealing with NoNos. The first is to keep them from creating mischief by actively distracting these distractors. The second is to push them out of the organization. The third is to expose their behavior in ways that allow natural social forces to reduce or stop it.
  • Almost always, NoNos won’t change, even if they say they will.
  • Do you allow a person to reduce urgency, undermine needed action, and hurt the future of an organization? Or do you take steps that may be uncomfortable in the short term but deal with this critical issue? Too often, people refused to take the uncomfortable steps.
  • An unfortunate but accurate rule: never underestimate the damage that a hardcore NoNO can do IN undermining efforts to reduce complacency, increase urgency, make smart action happen rapidly, and help an organization to survive and prosper.


Chapter 8 – Keeping Urgency Up

  • Urgency does not, and cannot, remain high without conscious effort unless it is very firmly ingrained in an organization’s culture; Something that today is exceptionally rare.
  • “The best time to pursue an ambitious agenda is not when you are crippled but when you’re on top and have the financial resources to overcome inevitable obstacles, to offer management lucrative economic incentives, and to stay the course despite competitive counter moves.”
  • Quick successes can turn skeptics into supporters while reducing the power of cynics and NoNos. Celebrating successes can also make the hard-working feel vindicated and appreciated. When people see no wins within a sensible time frame, those who are making sacrifices can become discouraged, skeptics will ask more questions, and the NoNos inevitably gain power… But with success comes a major problem: keeping up the sense of urgency needed to accomplish a bigger goal or to sustain a high level of performance over time.
  • If urgency drops sufficiently and momentum is lost, pushing complacency away a second time can be much more difficult than it was the first.
  • The problem of urgency dropping after success is difficult but solvable. Step one is being aware of it. Step 2 is knowing the tools available to stop it. Step three is using the right tools.
  • The tactical tools have already been described in this book. It’s a matter of bringing the outside in. Behave with true urgency yourself. Go beyond yet another business case. Deal with the NoNos. See if you can use a crisis wisely and effectively. The difference is that after short-term wins, these actions must be taken again and perhaps again after that, but in each case we’re the keen awareness to what’s already been done.
  • If visibly demonstrating a sense of urgency starts to feel grating to others, those who keep complacency down identify what is annoying and stop it. Too much repetition of the exact same line? Say it differently. Too many emails sent twice and too quickly. Start sending only one e-mail with a polite note saying, “I would appreciate a reply tomorrow.”
  • If a new sort of crisis might help, consider creating one, but with all the many caveats and principles discussed earlier.
  • … never use the tactics in a way that creates and then sustains the anger, anxiety, and flurry of activity associated with false urgency. Don’t let your own frustration grow into anger and then into behavior that may shake things up but does not create the thoughts, feelings, and actions needed for long-term success.
  • To keep moving, in many situations it’s going to be essential to have an external problem. If you are just going to beat up on people and say we have to do better, it doesn’t work. People don’t really believe you, and it’s not all that productive. Making more money doesn’t do it either. There has to be something real that they can see outside that leads them to say, “We haven’t made ourselves into the organization we should be. We need to do more. We need to try harder. I’m willing to try harder.”
  • With a culture of urgency, people deeply value the capacity to grab new opportunities, avoid new hazards, and continually find ways to win. Behaviors that are the norm include being constantly alert, focusing externally, moving fast, stopping low-value-added activities that absorb time and effort, relentlessly pushing for change when it is needed, and providing leadership to produce smart change no matter where you are in the hierarchy.


Keeping Urgency Up After A Success

  1. Anticipate, in advance, a possible downturn in the sense of urgency.
  2. Plan for a solution.
  3. Whether or not it is anticipated and planned for, as soon as urgency starts to dip use an appropriate combination of urgency-raising tactics within the framework of a heart-head strategy.
    1. Bring more of the outside in.
    2. Act urgently on new and fresh ways.
    3. Use (or create) a new crisis.
    4. Deal with the remaining NoNos.

Most of all, work, overtime, to drive a sense of urgency into the culture



Chapter 9 – The Future

  • The anxious and angry focus on the wrong issues, often waste time in a flurry of unneeded activities, all with the same consequence – a growing vulnerability. Those were the compulsive drive to move, and win, now – feelings as – associated with the true sense of urgency – position themselves to achieve more than seems logical or reasonable for themselves, their employers, and the world in which we all live.
  • A sense of being overwhelmed stops action instead of encouraging it, just as a hopelessly cluttered calendar can kill urgency around the key issue. The better strategy is to identify three or four ideas that will be easy to implement, and start doing so immediately.
  • An alternative to struggling with fifty items or limiting yourself to the logically linear is to focus first on what is quick and easy. Be opportunistic. Try something.
  • Quick-and-easy actions usually do not require the creation of a new project. They fit into your existing calendar for the upcoming week or month. They do not require new resources. Quick-and-easy usually means using existing plans, budgets, and activities in a new and different way