As a consultant, I’m very privileged to experience all sorts of organisational cultures and its always fascinating to see how different cultures arise in different organisations, even within the same sector. One cultural dynamic I find particularly interesting is the one where everything is urgent.
When exploring this phenomenon with managers in such organisations, they’re often burnt out, confused, directionless, and yet plough on responding to, and enabling, the urgency. When pressed on where this urgency is coming from, inevitably its from the leadership team, who are often just as frustrated that nothing is getting achieved while everyone seems to be spinning their wheels, being incredibly busy.
Why does this matter? My mother used to always say “more haste, less speed” and that is eminently true with a culture of urgency. If everything is urgent, nothing is urgent. Just like we can’t all be high performers, everything we do can not be urgent. If everything is urgent, there is something (or several things ) seriously wrong. This results in:
- Projects (improvement, strategic, etc) never get finished out and desired outputs/outcomes never get realised
- No value is ever derived from the use of the resources ploughed into those projects
- Wasted resources, lower profits
- Quality is constantly undermined, increasing reputational damage, loss of customers, lower revenue, lower profits
- Constant operation in reaction mode leads to managers and staff in a constant fight or flight mode, leading to stress, burn-out, turnover, loss of knowledge & skills, heaping more pressure on the organisational system.
A culture of urgency arises from a combination of impatient leaders and reactive managers. In terms of models, such leaders would draw heavily from Red energy (Extrovert Thinking) on the Insights Model and would likely be Shapers on the Team Role preference model. Their mindset is very likely to be that of Individual Contributor. They tend to want to execute and execute NOW! They don’t want to stop and think about how to go about it, what other initiatives are happening across the organisation, or the impact on resourcing or capability. Nor do they seem to want anyone else to stop and plan out how to achieve it. They just want it done NOW already.
This approach, and resultant flurry of activity, might meet the leader’s drive to feel like progress is being made but it’s fool’s gold. Over time, little gets delivered and it all feels very Groundhog’s Day-ish, as new urgencies arise. Such a leader would be better off challenging themselves to consider whether they want ACTION or SUCCESS? Action, of itself, isn’t success – it is action which may result in desired outcomes or may just keep us busy for a while. If success is the actual desired outcome, then such leaders should consider:
- Readjusting their expectations around timelines and success
- Allowing for proper strategic planning and surface what is really important to deliver – done properly, the OKR process can assist in this
- Recognising that planning & preparation are activities required to deliver success
- Managing own impatience (may need an Executive Coach to explore the expectations, assumptions and beliefs driving this)
- Actively signalling to managers the change in approach – otherwise you’ll have to wait for them to recognise the change in approach and have the courage to test it out – you could be waiting for quite a while
- (Re-)reading the story of the Tortoise and the Hare