Error No. 1: Not Enough Urgency



Key Point: “When is the urgency rate high enough? From what I have seen, the answer is when about 75 percent of a company’s management is honestly convinced that business as usual is totally unacceptable. Anything less can produce very serious problems later on in the process.” That is a quote from Harvard’s John Kotter, arguably the preeminent scholar on institutional transformation. He has studied hundreds of companies undergoing intentional change in a variety of settings over the last few decades. While Kotter has been studying transformation and change, I’ve been instrumentally involved LEADING IT in organizations over the last 40 years. My experience has also been in a variety of settings. In almost every case, these organizations fundamentally transformed themselves into a much better state and/or at minimum survived seismic shocks to their ecosystem. A couple failed; one ran out of money and the other ran out value. That experience has translated into a lot of learning. I believe (hopefully confidently and humbly) that I can credibly execute on a framework to successfully lead an organization transformation anywhere (the not so humble part). It is an exhilarating, daunting and ultimately rewarding process. I agree with most of Kotter’s analysis on the conditions for transformation success and failure and I essentially agree with what he refers to as ERROR No. 1. Here is a little about what he says about that

“Most successful change efforts begin when some individuals or some groups start to look hard at a company’s competitive situation… Then find ways to communicate this information broadly and dramatically, especially with respect to crises, potential crises, or great opportunities that are very timely. This first step is essential because just getting a transformation program started requires the aggressive cooperation of many individuals. Without motivation, people won’t help, and the effort goes nowhere… Compared with other steps in the change process, phase one can sound easy. It is not. Well over 50 percent of the companies I have watched fail in this first phase… A paralyzed senior management often comes from having too many managers and not enough leaders. Management’s mandate is to minimize risk and to keep the current system operating. Change, by definition, requires creating a new system, which in turn always demands leadership. Phase one in a renewal process typically goes nowhere until enough real leaders are promoted or hired into senior-level jobs.”

The reason that I “mostly agree ” with Kotter is that I would add “leadership mindset” to “leadership urgency.” My experience is that some leaders truly want to feel a sense urgency, yet struggle to lead it. They just do not have that fearless ability to jump. They get to the edge, study everything into paralysis and convince themselves that inertia is less risky than moving forward. Staying put is usually a great strategy if you’re physically lost in a survival situation… Let’s say after a hiking accident on an isolated mountain trail. Why? People are usually trying to rescue you and it’s often easier to “take you off the ledge if you stay put.” No one is trying to rescue your organization. Frankly, the opposite is true… They are usually, without personal attribution, trying to displace you. So if the urgency is not there, people will usually talk about it and unfortunately not fundamentally change. And why is it really, really hard? To transform your organization, a leader has to transform him or herself first. That is being fiercely and personally accountable. Top leaders are often the worst urgency saboteurs; their power points slickly describe the need for transformation and when you look at what they’ve executed on, often its too little too late. The same people are doing essentially the same things. And it’s worse when short-term incentives are being met. Do you have a sense of urgency AND a mindset of relentlessly transforming yourself first? If not, get out of the way and prepare yourself for somebody transforming your world.

Character Moves:

  1. Assess your urgency status? Does over 75 percent of yourself feel the urgency? Do 75 percent of the leaders in your organization have the deeply held belief that transformation is vital? How do you really know?
  1. Assess whether leaders know how to fundamentally transform themselves and drive the required change. Start with yourself. How will you need to lead differently? Do you know how to establish an inspiring transformative vision and reset expectations accordingly? If you can’t answer that, you’re risking being an academic voyeur. 

Mindful urgency in The Triangle,


One Millennial View: I’ve certainly been in situations at work recently where you want to encourage a leader to “jump! Jump! Jump!” It’s strange when you see where your organization can improve, but you maybe aren’t privy to some crucial details (specific budget figures, long term plans, or even your department’s decision making capabilities). Plus, of course your leader must know better than you, right? Any ideas you have are already being discussed. Must be, right? Well, I don’t know. Perhaps most don’t know, but if we’re all moving towards the improvement of our organization, then a pathway for conversation should hopefully be encouraged and available.

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis