- Fri, February 03 2012
- Filed under: Nonprofit leadership
Today, I finished reading John Kotter’s book, A Sense of Urgency*. It’s full of good advice on how to spark a burning desire for your agenda. If you are frustrated, you should buy this book and read it right away.
What I learned was complacency and “false urgency” are the biggest barriers to getting things done. Complacency is comfort with the status quo, generated by past success or perceived success. False urgency by contrast comes from failure. It’s essentially unproductive panic and activity.
True urgency, on the other hand, is a very good thing. It is the visceral, highly motivated urge to do something important, day in and day out.
So how do you create that?
The single most important thing you can do is to appeal to the heart not just the head of your colleagues. (This reminds me of the elephant in Switch.) As Kotter says, “Excellent information, by itself, with the best data and logic, can win over minds and thoughts but rarely increases needed urgency… A logical case that is part of a heart-engaging experience can win over hearts and minds and increase needed urgency.”
He then told the story of a corporation spending months on strategy and consultants and committees to make his point in terms both vivid and scary.
He offers four key tactics. Here they are with my commentary:
1. Bring the outside in: Don’t just navel gaze! Reconnect internal reality with external opportunities and risks. Bring in emotionally compelling data, people, videos, sites and sounds. Put front and center stories of your customers, competitors, donors and beneficiaries. Send out scouts to experience front-line, real world circumstances.
2. Behave with urgency every day: Don’t be content - or anxious. Show the real sense of urgency - fire in the belly for a worthy and clear aim. Free up time in your day to think straight - because clutter and fatigue undermine urgency.
3. Find opportunity in crisis: Handled right and with caution, a crisis can destroy complacency and inspire sound action. But remember: Crises alone don’t create urgency - in fact, they can create paralysis. And manufactured crises create resentment. If you have a crisis, use it as a rallying point. If you don’t have one, don’t stand around waiting for one! Create urgency through other means.
4. Deal with the Nonos: Remove or neutralize those who are complacent or creating destructive, false urgency. The NoNo is ready with ten reasons why the current situation is fine, why your problems don’t exist or why you need more data before you do anything. A skeptic is fine - even good. But NoNos aren’t about healthy questioning. They’re about automatically shooting down change. Kotter says not to bother co-opting a NoNo - it won’t work. Nor will ignoring them, because they are good at creating mischief, not to mention organizational civil war. So what do you do? He offers three options:
NoNo Option A: Distraction. Send the NoNo on a special assignment suited to her skills or give them lots of other work. Or get them riled up about something else.
NoNo Option B: Removal. Fire the NoNo.
NoNo Option C: Immobilization. Kotter says “lightweight” NoNos can be exposed in public and social pressures can be used to neutralize their behavior. But calling out someone only works if they aren’t powerful or hard core.
Of course, if you do all of this, you will be successful - and generate a new round of complacency, Kotter points out. So you have to keep working the tactics, again and again. Urgency is needed all along the way. Sigh. The work of a change agent is never done, my friends!
*Hat tip to birthday girl Jocelyn Harmon for giving me a copy of this excellent book!