Years ago when I worked for a daily newspaper, my first job ever, we had a constant sense of urgency at work. Every day we had a goal of filling the newspaper pages with content – relevant, timely and meaningful content that would sell. Among other things, our staff had to find newsworthy stories, write them, corroborate the sources, edit, proof read, lay the newspaper out, fit everything properly with the corresponding original photos and to complete all of that before the day ended. Next morning the whole process had to start all over and we would fill the new issue from scratch again. Day in, day out, this was the reality of life for the whole team.
This kind of sense of urgency does not exist in every work environment though. Some other workplaces that I have seen have their sense of urgency come and go, some even experience it only when a crisis hits. When there is no sense of urgency at all, not only things move very slowly – people grow complacent, companies get out of alignment with their marketplace and eventually lose their competitive edge.
Urgency, by the way, is not running on a perpetual hamster wheel with everyone in the workplace feeling agitated, stressed out and pointing fingers at each other if a deadline was missed or anything else went wrong. Such a chaotic and reactive way of doing business and running a workplace inevitably would lead to employee burnout and lost productivity.
Instead, true urgency is a healthy feeling when everyone in a workplace is united by a common purpose and a shared need to stay on top of things. This is a state of being fully aware of the organizational context with all of its relevant external and internal issues – political, economic, social and technological. It’s the mentality of consistently keeping an eye on all of the threats and opportunities that exist out there for your organization and showing the readiness to act upon every worthwhile opportunity and to address every expected threat. A real sense of urgency is the willingness to work as a team in order to coordinate the right efforts at the right time and to swiftly act together whenever needed.
Often enough in a workplace without a sense of urgency those in charge like to complain that they are stuck with staff that is unmotivated and doesn’t care about the quality of the job they do. In reality it is up to the leaders to create that sense of urgency. It won’t happen just by making announcements on how we need the change. What will work is starting by creating a shared need among the team members. Paint a crystal clear picture of the future, define it with image-based words that can be easily understood and visualized by everyone. Most importantly, become the change you want to see in others.