I used to wrongly believe that all urgency was good urgency, and was certainly better than no urgency at all. Not quite. Without question, a healthy sense of urgency is an essential ingredient in a high performance culture. But contrary to popular belief, a sense of urgency is not always helpful; a healthy sense of urgency is. A harmful sense of urgency is detrimental to morale, your culture, and results. Overall, it is the leader’s approach to his responsibilities and people that determines the level and type of urgency within a department or dealership. In the following paragraphs, I’ll contrast a healthy versus a harmful sense of urgency and suggest that you evaluate which type dominates your department and is more reflective of your leadership style. I’ll then offer a handful of steps to take to ensure the urgency you create and sustain is healthy.
1. A healthy sense of urgency plays to win. There is a hunger to gain ground, increase your lead over a competitor or to narrow the gap between you and whoever is in the lead. The leader sets a measured, proactive course that creates an overall sense that you’re playing to win and expecting to win.
On the other hand, a harmful sense of urgency focuses on holding your ground, or not losing ground. Much is spent reacting, plugging holes, conducting emergency meetings or doing damage control. There’s plenty of visible activity and motion, but little evidence of real progress. People aren’t idle, but they’re not particularly focused or effective either.
2. A healthy sense of urgency creates a narrow focus. Because the team is focused on winning, unproductive tasks are discarded and energies are devoted to doing more of what matters most. Motion is not mistaken for progress, and each team member understands their role in the overall dealership objectives and works hard to deliver their share of results. In fact, there is a positive peer pressure to do so.
Oppositely, a harmful sense of urgency is fueled by frantic activity. The order of the day is, “run, run, meet, meet, accuse, accuse, defend, defend and go home drained.” In an atmosphere of unhealthy urgency leaders must often push and threaten people to get them to focus on what matters most.
3. A healthy sense of urgency unifies a team and focuses its competitive instincts externally. All teams have some degree of competitive instincts. When fueled by a healthy sense of urgency, a unified team focuses this aggression externally, rather than on internal battles and turf wars between various departments.
Logically, a harmful sense of urgency creates the “play not to lose, every man for themselves” mentality where there is normally more internal competition for resources, talent and recognition. Also there is more internal finger pointing, blame and resentment amongst departments. People become defensive, there is distrust, insecurity, jealousy and an attitude of “the other guy is the problem.” Rather than team work and camaraderie, there are turf wars and conflicts. The only winner in this sad culture is your competition.
4. A healthy sense of urgency creates feelings of hunger, joy and excitement. Working with proactivity, unity and with a narrow focus on what matters most is exhilarating because it brings results. Each department appreciates the other. Work is fun and even though you’re working hard, you’re not tired. You feel part of something special.
As you can imagine, the feelings and emotions pervasive in an environment guided by a harmful sense of urgency are characterized by a sense of being overwhelmed, playing catch up and being wrung out. While some degree of stress is helpful in any organization because it creates a positive tension and healthy sense of urgency to make something good happen, stress becomes distress when a line is crossed that shifts a team’s focus and rhythm from playing to win, to swimming against a current that seems intent on drowning you.
5. A healthy sense of urgency drives results, where as a harmful urgency is activity-driven. Here’s an example to help you distinguish between the two. Determine which approach is most typical of your organization:
An unhealthy sense of urgency says, “We have to have the training meeting today.” A healthy sense says, “Which three objectives do we want to accomplish at the training meeting today?”
Notice how many of the comparative traits I’ve presented converge in this one example: proactive versus reactive; narrow focus as opposed to scattered activity, results as the main objective rather than activity for the sake of activity.
While unexpected conditions can temporarily influence whether the urgency in a department is healthy or harmful, it is the leader’s approach to people, objectives, opportunities, and setbacks that ultimately determines the state of urgency in any organization. The following five tasks will help you and your managers by allowing you to maintain the upper hand on your day and foment a consistently pervasive sense of urgency throughout your enterprise.
1. Work within your own strength zone and ensure others do the same. When you’re in your zone you know it, feel it and the results you get show it. Conversely, working in areas of weakness or low return is a drain. It creates anxiety, panic, frustration and a sense of playing catch up, rather than one of not only winning, but “running up the score.”
2. Schedule priorities and develop the discipline to stick with them. This narrows your focus, creates personal momentum and multiplies results. Discipline is a morale builder that creates personal and organizational momentum. The sloppiness resulting from harmful urgency is the antithesis of this asset.
3. Motivate through relationships and not by rules or fear. Leaders who stay engaged with their team members and don’t become prisoners of paperwork that isolates them from reality can more effectively unify, motivate, focus and develop their team. This in-the-trenches approach to their jobs allows managers to lead rather than react, act as coaches rather than cops and leverage their people- skills rather than depend upon memos, emails or voice mails to get the right things done.
4. Hire and keep only employees who share core values and can perform the technical aspects of their job with excellence. There is little that creates a more harmful sense of urgency than the frantic activity involved with cleaning up messes, putting out fires and asking others to do additional work because you have a misfit on your team. Poor performers and great performers who fail to share your values drain a company’s morale, diminish its culture and make a mockery of its leadership.
5. Use missed goals and mistakes as a teaching tool and not a battering ram. When things go poorly, stay in control by remaining proactive, conducting autopsies without blame and focusing on the solution rather than rehearsing the problem. If every goal or objective you set is a matter of life or death, your people will be dead a lot. Use setbacks as a chance to regroup, unify, narrow your focus, plan rather than react, and play to win again.
The bottom line is this: your daily actions, disposition, agenda, attitude, motives, character and competence are the key factors that will determine whether the sense of urgency in your dealership is healthy or harmful. Step up and make them count for the good.