I’m enjoying John Kotter’s latest book, ‘A Sense of Urgency’. For those who know Kotter’s work and his 8-step change model, they will recognise this as the first step in his model.
Kotter suggests that a lot of change initiatives fail at this first step: either the sense of urgency is not high enough, or complacency has not been reduced. Immediately I began to think in terms of Lewin’s force field analysis (see
However, he goes further and explores the idea of a false sense of urgency: frenetic activity that is unfocussed and unaligned with strategic issues. I recognise this. I’ve seen this. To my shame, I’ve done this.
In recent years we have seen the rise of portfolio management, and responses to supporting this has been a Portfolio Office as part, perhaps, of a P3O system of support and assurance. One of the keys to practising effective management of a change portfolio is strategic alignment: making sure all the projects and programmes tell, contribute to the war effort as expressed in the organisation’s strategy. If they don’t it simply produces a lot of motion without movement, a lot of busyness without any real and lasting benefit.
I was schooled in Covey's 7 Habits of Highly Effective People where in the Habit 'Put First Things First', Covey develops a strong distinction between the 'Urgent' and the 'Important', arguing that many confuse the two. In the 7 Habits analysis we engage with two types of 'Urgent': the non-Important (perhaps other people's important) and the Important Urgent. It seems to me that what John Kotter is describing a false sense of urgency is, in Covey's terms, the Unimportant Urgent, but almost at an organisational level.
So who defines what is 'important' within the organisation. Leaders do. This is a fundamental job of leadership. Leaders clarify meaning, explain what is important to everyone they seek to influence.
I’m getting too old for aimless thrashing about. Now I need to use my energy and the energy of the organisation as a whole wisely. As a leader, I need to make it tell. So I appreciate Kotter's analysis of a false sense of urgency and how to identify the real thing.
I’ll write more on this book shortly.