Book Review »
Title: A Sense of Urgency
Author: John P. Kotter
Publisher: Harvard Business Press
ISBN: 978-1-4221-7971-0

The preface of this fascinating and helpful book starts simply enough: “This is a book about a seemingly narrow issue – creating a high enough sense of urgency among a large enough group of people.”

A narrow issue, but a very real one. Especially when, as the author’s research has found, that a full 70% of all change efforts fail in some way. Why? A lack of urgency. See if you don’t recognize some of the red flags:

  • Instead of saying, ‘We have to deal with this as fast as possible,’ consultants are  brought in to analyze and recommend before any actions are even contemplated.
  • After studying the consultant’s report, a task force is created for implementation, but its participants have insufficient authority to resolve the issues likely to arise along the way.
  • Scheduling task force meetings is a cumbersome and drawn-out process, often taking weeks to coordinate everyone’s calendars (and having to be rescheduled at least once or twice).
  • When the first task force meeting finally does occur, the first order of business is to challenge the appropriateness of the chosen strategy; the second is to establish subgroups.
  • Very little progress is reported at Meeting Two.
  •  Meeting Three is attended by surrogates.
  • There is no Meeting Four.

In contrast to such complacency, Kotter also discusses what he calls False Urgency:

“While complacency embraces the status quo, false urgency can be filled with new activities. While complacency often has a sort of sleepy quality, false urgency is filled with energy… but the energy from anger and anxiety can easily create activity, not productivity, and sometimes very destructive activity.”

 Here’s further comparison between the two:

The real question, of course, is how to build a REAL sense of urgency and Kotter has many suggestions that make the book worth reading. One additional chart I’ll include here, though, lists how you, the boss, can behave (and encourage others to behave) to demonstrate TRUE urgency:


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