There is a dirty buzz word floating around the internet. This word is being met with disdain and dismissal. The very mention of the word, in any context, sends people into a tizzy. The word itself has become so misused and misinterpreted that it is being eradicated from corporate lexicons.
You guessed it:
What comes to mind when you think of “urgency”? Likely something akin to a 1990s stock exchange or the organized chaos of a busy restaurant kitchen. If you’re like me, your mind then goes to a place of exhaustion.
But what do we do? Throw out the word urgency? Reframe how we think about the pace of work?
Instead, let’s take a beat and look at how we can reframe the word itself. Let’s examine how a culture of urgency, when well defined, can lead to better team engagement and organizational success.
Picture, if you will, the story of the tortoise and the hare.
Spoiler alert: the tortoise won because he demonstrated urgency. This may seem odd…given that he’s…well…a tortoise, but it’s the truth. The hare lost because he rushed, eventually got complacent, and lost his focus.
The tortoise didn’t panic, and he never wavered. Instead, he methodically kept putting one foot (paw?) in front of the other until he got to his destination.
When you look up the word urgency in a thesaurus you will find are words like:
No mention of panic or chaos or hysteria.
This construct is perhaps best summed up by a famous Navy Seal motto: “Slow is smooth and smooth is fast.”
Now, let’s translate these findings into the creation and execution of a powerful strategy.
Over the last year, we have heard a different version of the same message from current and prospective clients:
“Our team would prefer to put off a planning exercise until we can meet in person. There is no appetite to take this on right now.”
What they are really saying is:
“We are way too busy. Our competing priorities are keeping us locked in an endless spiral. Our days are filled with putting out fires, keeping the business afloat, and trying as hard as we can to keep our people sane.”
Can you blame them? Certainly not.
So, in the face of this chaos, how can you respond with urgency and clarity? How can you ensure that you and your team are well-equipped to take on not only today’s challenges but the long-term challenges of your organization?
First, we need to understand what strategic planning is and the power it can have. For those answers, I’d direct you to my colleague Ali’s article here.
Next, we need to rethink how we approach the definition of urgency and how we can create a culture of excellence with urgency as its foundation.
What we know is that great organizations are led by resilient leaders who meticulously follow their pre-determined plan in pursuit of their vision. We often look at these companies in awe. These are the companies that seem impervious to external disruption. These are the leaders who seem to have all the answers.
Do these leaders and companies know something we don’t? No, they don’t. They just have the courage to apply the learnings we simply nod our heads at. They foster a culture of urgency and resiliency through strategy and leadership.
To help you down the path, we have outlined four guiding principles that you can apply to run your business strategy while embracing a culture of urgency.
- Take the time now, get your bearings, and create a roadmap.
Most business leaders feel like they are in the middle of the hurricane. The irony is that they are trying to manage their way through it instead of stepping outside the storm. Newsflash, you can’t control the weather. But you can control your response.
The first, and most crucial step in creating a plan is to step outside of your current environment. This is why you will often hear of executive “retreats”.
Allow yourself time to assess your landscape and start to put a framework in place that calls out where you want to be 3-years from now with 1-year incremental objectives.
- Involve your team in the process.
The farther up the corporate ladder you climb, the lonelier it gets. Executives and decision-makers often feel isolated when making decisions. This doesn’t have to be the case.
As a leader, you can flex that humility muscle and deliberately involve your team in the creation of your plan. This will inevitably have three effects:
- Your plan will be better and more informed.
- Your team will feel more engaged.
- Your team will feel a sense of ownership in the plan given their hand in its creation.
- Keep it simple.
Part of our core strategic planning process is to do a detailed doc review. When there is one, this means we do a deep dive into an organization’s current plan. Often, the plan is convoluted and lacks the proper interconnectivity. Business leaders are highly intelligent people. When given the opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge, they will often fall into the trap of oversharing. As a leader, you must force yourself and your team to distill the most critical parts of your organization’s plan in pursuit of simplicity and clarity.
If the core components of your plan can’t fit onto one page, it’s too complex. If it’s too complex, it won’t be executed.
- Allow room to pivot.
The best strategies are the ones that allow you to adjust. Creating long-term clarity of success is crucial. Handcuffing yourself to a 3-year plan without any room for adaptation is a recipe for disaster.
Doing this will require constant monitoring of your plan, your landscape, and most importantly your team.
We’re one year into our 3-year plan and we have to recalibrate.” Many see this
as a failure. This is an indicator of an adaptive and resilient leader.
Urgency is not panic. Urgency is the tortoise. The ability to adopt a culture of persistence and tenacity is what will drive success.
Taking time to deliberately plan is only possible if you step outside of your chaotic day-to-day world. Doing that takes a bit of courage.
Involving your team in the creation of a plan has numerous and long-lasting benefits. Doing that takes a bit of humility.
All in all, be patient with yourself. Be patient with your team. Never stop the progress.
Author: Jordan Orr