September 2, 2016

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How A 'Sense of Urgency' Slows Progress

We've all heard the phrase.  Many people have even been fired over it or the apparent lack of it. But what does it mean, exactly, to have a 'sense of urgency'?


First, 'sensing' in this idiom means there are specific 'things' that need to be observed: signals, trends, tasks, objectives, activities, and so on.  Secondly, the 'urgency' implies that there is an expected speed, or pace, at which these specific, important inputs would need to be sensed to satisfy the observer.      


How many times in your experience have the specific tasks and the expected speed of completion of those tasks been precisely defined by the speaker of the phrase?  Almost never in my tenure. Still some poor employee is expected to perform those hidden tasks at some unknown speed or suffer the consequences.  Even if the tasks are possible, neither knowing them clearly nor the expected pace at which they should be completed creates a double-bind in the employee.  This double-bind always gives way to some action- no one wants to let their boss down.  The clear tasks not having been adequately defined, this action can manifest into appearing busy, but achieving little.. In this way the poor morale begins to fester under the heft of meaningless activity, and the whole workplace landscape of intent, capability and effectiveness becomes jumbled and confused.  (One might expect to see average scores on employee surveys is this is the case.  Don't make the mistake that thinking average is good on employee surveys!  I'll explain why that may be the case in a future blog.)


If you or your managers are using "sense of urgency" in any conversation, it means that someone- or, perhaps, everyone- doesn't really know what to do and when, and is busy accomplishing less than what is possible. When I hear this phrase in business meetings or in discussions about individual 

employees, I know the business is growing and generating cash at a lower than maximal rate.


Stretch yourself if you use this language- actually define exactly what you want and when you want it, and you will be amazed to find that each employee will always exhibit a sense or urgency. If you build your business processes so that tasks and pace are always obvious across your entire business, you'll be further surprised that everything happens when it needs to without your uttering a word.  

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