Instilling a sense of Urgency, and a case study (revised)

This post will relate to how to instill a sense of urgency.

Instilling urgency is a major reason that clients ask me for support. Most organizations turn to me for help after they have applied pressure, and more pressure, yet staff  still behaves as if they have forever at their disposal to get the job done.

Clients typically complain  that their staff do not have a sense of urgency and “drag their feet”, or as my late father used to say, have “lead up their ass”. The employees who allegedly have no urgency also “do not understand the business, and live in la la land”.

This initial self diagnosis may be symptomatically correct yet the real cause of lacking sense of  urgency is often misunderstood.

Let  us take an example. Claude’s manager told me that Claude & his team of software developers have no sense or urgency. I went to France and met with the team & Claude. The deadlines which had been dictated to this team were  totally unrealistic. The developers correctly believed that were they to have a “ sense of urgency” from day one, they would have bust their ass every single day and night whilst still not making the delivery date anyway. Thus, they prefer not having a sense of urgency until a few weeks before delivery date, when they will obviously get an extension of time. Claude prefers not to confront his people and “come clean,” renegotiating an apirori reasonable time frame.

So, rule number one: when you hear “lacking a sense of urgency”, look for unrealistic commitments as a root cause.

Let us take a second example. Dr. Hana’s boss told me that Hana and her 14 life scientists, who are working on “one pill a month” asthma treatment, lack a sense of urgency.

Dr. Hana and her team lead a laid back life style. Indeed, they are working on a drug, yet it is about 10 years before anything will be productized, if ever. The more progress the scientists report, the more commercial pressure will be applied, increasing the chances their start up company will be sold. So the scientists slow down, to preserve their present “development culture”.

So, rule number two: when you hear “lacking a sense of urgency”, look at the perceived  consequence of the lack urgency in the eyes of the staff.

There is a need to factor in cultural elements to the subject of urgency as well. Urgent means different things to different cultures. For some, if you do not reply for an hour, you are not responsive. For others, a reply within a few days, if well detailed, is very responsive. Furthermore, many Asians and Israelis respond well to urgency relative to western cultures because they value relationships more than systems, so they reply immediately. Americans have their “plans” and the Germans have their love of data and risk adverseness, which make urgency more difficult to respond to.


When management and staff act the way they do, it makes no sense to say that they lack a sense of urgency. Instead, focus on grasping the present set of motivations that make folks tick, and give them a real  reason to change their behaviour.

I have included below a case studies for people who want to use this as an  exercise. This will appear in a book of exercises which I am preparing.

Case study on Instilling a Sense of Urgency

Ram manages a call center. 98 people work in this call centre, 10 of whom are  team leaders.

Ram’s boss, Vered, asked you to work with Ram and his team leaders on “instilling a sense of urgency”, because too many complaints reach the CEO, into whom Vered reports.

Indeed, 67% of ALL complaints are escalated by service agents and 5%  reach the CEO.

You spoke to Ram and his team leaders. Ram and his team leaders really do not care all that much about customer satisfaction any more; for months now, the service providers are “serving the CRM software” which itself resides on a faulty IT structure.

Each and every customer issue requires 4 minutes of data entry. Irate customers are put on mute and calls dropped as customer service agents shield themselves from the customers’ ire so that data can be entered.

The CEO and Vered are aware of the CRM and IT issues but want the service agents to “assume ownership” of customer issues, “based on a sense of urgency”.

What is the plan of action to instill a sense of urgency?

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7 thoughts on “Instilling a sense of Urgency, and a case study (revised)

  1. and I had several. The Chinese call this “playing piano to a cow”. He did not get it…..he was addicted to the phrase “lacking a sense of urgency” and “a sense of ownership”

  2. When urgency cannot be explained with fact-based or high-probability based negative consequences of not meeting a given deadline, it generates long-term desensitization to real ones.

  3. Dump the CRM system! & find a way to demonstrate the adage that “what gets measured is what gets done.”

    Clearly, despite the CEO’s complaints, he’s more interested in measuring the wrong things than in providing customer service. Or at the very least, he doesn’t understand that what he’s measuring with the CRM system is contrary to his expressed objectives.

  4. Instilling a “sense of urgency?” Make it fair! Most people misunderstand that a sense of urgency is uniquely tied to time. Some time ago, it was shared with me (and I quickly adopted and shared) that a sense of urgency should be equated with “something needs to change.” OK, this may be hard for most people to embrace because if there is one thing people hate more than being rushed it is C-H-A-N-G-E (don’t get me started on that).

    As a manager, I got more buy-in when I broadened the scope.

    One example that comes to mind: We were under pressure to increase production to meet increased demand. The first thing corporate offices did was demand a greater “sense of urgency.” Our shop floor people heard “work harder” to which the shop floor responded with “give us more resources.” I stepped in and reminded them that “something had to change.” We looked at the processes and realized that if engineering (at HQ) implemented some improvements (changes) to machinery and processes then we could reach the new output targets with no increased effort or “working harder” from associates.

    A sense of urgency has to be well defined and NOT used as a three-word-whip.

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