Think of the word “urgent”. What comes to mind for you? Maybe an “urgent care” health centre. Maybe a few synonyms: crucial, vital, pressing, imperative.

Now think of “complacent”. What ideas do you have this time? And would you ever want to characterize yourself or your company as “complacent”?

When it comes to instituting process improvement, instilling a sense of urgency is essential. And the word “instilling” is important here. Urgency in organizations is not the natural state, complacency is. Urgency comes in spurts, but complacency tends to stay the course. Urgency has to be manufactured and re-manufactured, and complacency simply doesn’t.

So what is urgency in this context of process improvement?

Creating UrgencyUrgency is a combination of thoughts, feelings, and actual behaviour that creates determination and calculated movement toward making things better. Urgency is smart and methodical, not frantic or erratic, and it acknowledges the hazards and opportunities that arise as people work toward strategic objectives. Urgency is that gut-level resolve that says, “We’re going to do something now, and we’re going to do something to win.”*

When urgency is high in an organization, things happen because people commit to making them happen over and over again, across time and space. When complacency is high, transformations usually go nowhere because few people are even interested in considering what could be done to improve anything. In that environment, it’s nearly impossible to put together a group with enough power and credibility to guide a change effort. Without urgency, process improvement cannot occur in any meaningful way.

Perhaps this all seems basic, but most organizational change fails because there simply was not enough urgency to motivate the long-term investment of time and effort into process improvement. Most people do not want to endure an endless learning curve unless they see a need to, and that need is what must be constantly addressed. Below are 3 steps you can use to build urgency into your organization:

Step #1: Examine Market Realities

Get a clear sense of what is going on in your industry, what your stakeholders expect from you, and how your competitors are meeting demand. Report this on a regular basis to your employees and get them to contribute their observations and experiences.

Step #2: Identify and Discuss Crises, Potential Crises, and Opportunities

Create a forum where you can learn the challenges and chances your organization has, and make sure that every person in your organization has an opportunity to participate. Whether you decide to do it by department, project team, a town hall meeting, or some other way, creating a regular dialogue around organizational realities is essential.

Step #3: Establish Changes

Use the information you’ve gathered to determine a course forward. Clearly establish the process improvements that will address the opportunities and challenges you’ve identified, articulate why those improvements will better the situation, and show how they will do it.

In paying perpetual attention to the level of urgency in your organization, you can clearly decide where you need to focus your energy in driving process improvement ahead.

“Status quo, you know, is Latin for ‘the mess we’re in.'”
– Ronald Reagan

* From an interview with John Kotter: “The Importance of Urgency,” 2008, Harvard Business Review. Accessed on January 2, 2018 from