In the business world, "instilling a sense of urgency" is often a task hurled at managers, or included on an organization's people strategy for next year. But what does the phrase "sense of urgency" mean — and how can it be created within an organization, without burning your team out?
What does it mean to have a sense of urgency?
In a business context, to have a sense of urgency is to act promptly and with intention to make things happen efficiently and effectively. Having a sense of urgency means doing what needs to be done immediately, without being asked and in the most thorough way possible in order to create change. This phrase is most often used in the context of leadership, along with in sales and marketing functions.
Why is it important to create a sense of urgency for change?
Creating a sense of urgency is arguably one of the most important organizational drivers of change. Fostering an environment that has a sense of urgency requires employees to be innovative, ambitious and efficient — three important characteristics for driving change. Additionally, a sense of urgency requires employees to function confidently and largely on their own, increasing their independence and optimizing processes to deliver better individual results.
3 tiers of employee engagement
According to Gallup's 2017 State of the Workplace report, there are three tiers of employee engagement in most organizations in the United States. Understanding these tiers can help managers diagnose their employees' engagement and foster a sense of urgency in those who need an extra boost. Here are the tiers:
1. Engaged employees
Engaged employees love their job and actively work to make their organization better. They have a natural sense of urgency because they care about improving their work and their workplace. They take a sense of personal responsibility for their results and the results of their team. According to Gallup, only about 33% of American employees are engaged at work.
2. Not engaged employees
Not engaged employees come to work just to clock the time. They do the work, but without a sense of energy or passion. Not engaged employees tend to need a manager who fosters a sense of urgency in order to deliver their best results. According to Gallup, about 51% of American employees fall into this category.
3. Actively disengaged employees
Actively disengaged employees don't just dislike their jobs — they actively work to undo the good work their engaged colleagues produce. Actively disengaged employees may discourage others from working hard, make tasks more difficult for teammates or tear things down in other ways. These kinds of employees need managers who are able to engage them, or they need to be kicked to the curb. About 16% of Americans are actively disengaged employees, according to Gallup's report.
21 tactics for creating a sense of urgency
Now that you know what a sense of urgency is, how can you create it as a manager or supervisor? Here are 21 tactics for creating a sense of urgency on your team.
1. Make your own smart, quick decisions with confidence.
2. Don't stress or panic in front of your team; instead, reassure them a quick pace is to be taken in stride.
3. Identify obstacles to your team's progress and quickly remove them.
4. Establish a team culture that is focused on outcomes, not individual tasks.
5. Communicate consequences for inaction; in other words, clarify what happens if desired outcomes aren't met.
6. Identify what systems work for your team and eliminate the systems that no longer serve you.
7. Identify any causes of complacency that exist within your culture and eradicate them.
8. Encourage your team members to ask for help and always offer support when asked.
9. Announce and celebrate small successes to demonstrate what happens when desired outcomes are met.
10. Give one-on-one praise in ways that match each team member; find what drives them and match your feedback to that aspect of their personality.
11. Agree on deadlines and provide reminders.
12. Keep meetings short by always providing an agenda; cut all unnecessary meetings.
13. When speaking, get to the point quickly; encourage your team members to communicate in a similar manner.
14. Demonstrate leadership by example by meeting your personal deadlines.
15. Exhibit urgency with your body language.
16. Provide consistent encouragement and reminders of why your team's work is important.
17. Spark action by encouraging your team to take on dynamic tasks beyond reading reports and replying; hold brainstorming sessions, team presentations and more.
18. Evangelize your team's sense of urgency; remind everyone this urgency is what you are purposefully trying to build to get results.
19. Hold one-on-one meetings to secure each member's buy-in to the team; talk to that person about what drives them and cement why they are individually important to your work.
20. Identify motivators for your team and use these to build a team-wide strategy for urgency and outcome-focused work.
21. Remind your team of the consequences of burnout and ask them to segment their time to take care of themselves.
The bottom line
Overall, creating a sense of urgency is important to drive organizational change. It fosters an ambitious, independent workforce that is willing to act confidently and with intention. While engaged employees often have a natural sense of urgency created by internal sense of personal responsibility, other types of employees may need external leadership to feel a sense of urgency at work. Not engaged employees and actively disengaged employees need help with this the most. So, how can managers institute a sense of urgency within their team's or organization's culture? Leading by example, evangelizing urgency, providing constant encouragement and clear expectations, and communicating what happens when outcomes aren't reached are all critical tools for managers to instill urgency within their team. Additionally, personalized efforts — such as one-on-one meetings to establish buy-in and strategies specific to your team — are important to boosting the morale necessary for urgency.
While creating urgency is often a term used in sales and marketing, or in leadership development, this outlook on business can be beneficial in most job functions across levels of seniority, especially within small or agile businesses. Instilling a sense of urgency within a culture can help to foster more individual results, greater autonomy among employees, more innovative ideas and less bureaucracy by equipping each employee with the confidence and instruction to act ambitiously.
This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of Fairygodboss.
Una Dabiero is the Associate Contributors Editor at CNBC Make It. Prior to joining CNBC, she managed the editorial career advice at Fairygodboss, the largest career community for women. Una earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She lives in Brooklyn, NY.