Monday, August 25, 2008

Change starts with igniting a sense of urgency

Found a good review this weekend of John Kotter's new book "Sense of Urgency," which just came out. Kotter is the Harvard prof who has written several books about leadership and managing change.

For coaches, GMs or anyone who is trying to drive change within a team or organization, Kotter claims the key is "igniting a sense of urgency."

According to the review, "Complacency is the culprit. We stick with the status quo. We shy away from new opportunities and choose to ignore huge risks. We live off the fumes of past success." What's needed is what Kotter describes as a "gut-level determination to move and win now. To do something important today."

Kotter has said that the biggest mistake people make when attempting to create real change is failing to create "a high enough sense of urgency among people to set the stage for making a challenging leap into some new direction."

"It all starts with urgency -- no matter the change effort, if a sense of urgency is low and complacency is high, everything else becomes more difficult. Complacency is more common than we think, and often is invisible to the people involved."

Kotter's advice:

1. "Create a sense of urgency by aiming for the heart first and head second. Feelings are more influential than thoughts. Emotion trumps logic. It's worth remembering that Martin Luther King Jr. didn't have a strategic plan. He had a dream. Behaving with passions, conviction, optimism, urgency and a steely determination will trump an analytically brilliant memo every time."

2. Bring in outsiders who can offer a different perspective and provide a candid assessment of your team's or organization's strengths and weaknesses. At the same time, send members of your team out to see what others are doing that works.

3. "Clear the decks. A crowded appointment diary is one of the great enemies of urgency, Kotter says. Scrap low-value meetings and don't let people delegate problems up to you."

4. Finally, when necessary, get rid of the "NoNos" on your team or in your organization. "These are the wet blankets who kill urgency, crush new ideas and discredit anyone who tries to break with the status quo.

If you've ever joined a team or organization that is sort of coasting or on "cruise control," you know how difficult it is to get people out of their comfortable routine and get them excited about a new vision, especially if they've had some success doing it "their way." It's even harder to drive change from the bottom up, i.e., without the support of others higher up in the organization.

I've ordered a copy of Kotter's new book and will post more from it later.