Change and sense of urgencyHow much drama does it take until something actually moves?
Anyone who is familiar with change processes knows it: something like a ‘burning platform’ is needed to get a desired transformation up and running. According to John Kotter’s Change Management Model, it is the central element to lead a change to success. In private life, too, it is often the case that even the important things have to become urgent before something finally happens. Transformations in companies have two possible causal motives as triggers for an urgency scenario: disaster is imminent, such as a slump in sales, cost explosion or aggressive competitors.
Or there is an ambition for a better future, e.g. growth offensive, innovative offers or new business models. Experience shows that a disaster scenario is more powerful than the chance for a better future in order to create an effective burning platform. Fear is the psychologically stronger driver and therefore positive future ambitions are often made urgent with a threat component – according to the motto: attack is the best defense. A growth offensive, for example, can contain threatening arguments, such as the possible loss of market share, in addition to the good prospects for more sales.
A scenario highlighting the urgency must be developed which answers the questions “Why?” and “Why now?” Leaders must develop and communicate an appropriate and credible formulation for this, as it should usually lead directly to a change in priorities. Experienced employees are not experiencing this situation for the first time, because they live in a time of constant change.
Every impending change is almost always critically scrutinized. If the experiences of many employees show that the urgency presented is not credible, open rejection or passive resistance will be the reaction. Many employees have already walked a few ‘extra miles’ in vain and no longer believe the new announcements without further ado. One just listens to the news and waits.
It is similar to false alarms: If you ran out of the house at top speed after three false alarms, you would run out of the house slowly or not at all after the fourth alarm – possibly with bad consequences. The lack of credibility of urgency scenarios in the past thus leads to a kind of inflation of the ‘burning platform’. The goal must be to outline an urgency scenario appropriate to the context and history.
The same mountain hike probably looks quite different with experienced participants. The decision of the mountain guide will be subject to controversy because the experienced participants will evaluate the initial signals about the weather change and the suggestion for a changed hiking route very differently. Experience, willingness to take risks and the degree of the proposed change will lead to discussion. More experience in the team will generally lead to a better assessment of the situation and as long as decisions are made and implemented in time, the group may reach the summit with calculated risk and still arrive safely.
Whether in the private leisure environment, in companies or in larger overarching organizations, responsible persons will have to master leadership through change. In the process, those who are led and those affected will want to think along with them and will participate in the assessment of an urgency scenario. Five elements are very important in the assessment and development of urgency scenarios:
A credible urgency scenario considers the five elements and takes into account the context and history in order not to fall into the ‘inflation trap’ of urgency.
Everyone has had their own experience with this, and especially in uncertain situations, such as now with the corona pandemic, it is only gradually becoming apparent whether an urgency scenario is actually credible. And if there is anything to be gained from this terrible event, it is the hope that the experience gained will be useful in combating other challenges such as the climate crisis of our planet. Unfortunately, all five elements of urgency have the highest degree of difficulty here: a high degree of change that can be achieved; a maximum dimension – the entire Earth is affected; a very long latency period, even if the first visible signals, such as the dying glaciers, have existed for a long time; direct observability is experienced by only a few in everyday life; a high degree of complexity that is recognized and explained by enough scientists, but there is no reliable experience with this type of transformation. We are breaking new ground – leadership is required.
We are happy to support you with our experience in the assessment and development of urgency scenarios.