I admire John P Kotter, I have been an avid reader of his books and an evangelist for his message about leading change. In his book "Urgency" Kotter says he believes that "the single biggest error people make in leading change is not creating a high enough sense of urgency".
But I think he is wrong and I believe "cause" beats urgency every time!
Urgency is, or should be, a temporary phenomenon (or else something else is wrong). Take Apple and Steve Jobs, no organisation has probably had a greater leader with an unwavering cause, a cause that they have stuck to through good times and bad and are now the most valuable company in the world. Of course they have had periods of urgency but what makes them great and what has seen them through their tough times has been the persistence of their "cause" and great leadership.
"“To make a contribution to the world by making tools for the mind that advance humankind.”...…that's a cause!
Even John Scully acknowledges that his biggest mistake was firing Jobs when he took over.
But a cause that inspires people and organisations is more difficult to develop and to lead. Urgency on the other hand is often "put upon" an organisation (although not always heeded), whereas a cause requires constancy, leadership, creativity, passion, belief and commitment ....all of the time.
There are more organisations that are not in a state of urgency (although many perhaps should be) so what do you you when there is no apparent urgency? Kotter acknowledges that this is when it gets really difficult so he recommends creating a sense of urgency, a burning platform, what I'd call negative urgency
But organisations with a passion, with a cause and a drive to make a difference, have a different kind of urgency, what I'd call positive urgency.
Take the posters below from one of our clients, Kforce Clinical Research from Tampa, Florida ( now part of Inventiv Health).
When faced with dramatic changes in the Clinical Trials FSP sector they embarked on a Lean Operational Excellence journey but were challenged, as all organisations are, to find a way to marry the values and beliefs of Lean Operational Excellence with their hugely strong and positive core values of "great people = great results". With their passion for helping to bring critical new medications to the market and to save lives.
Like many professional knowledge worker organisations, they we're concerned that Lean Operational Excellence meant "lean & mean", cutting corners or taking the focus away from customers. On only the bottom line and cutting out the time to care for people or cutting out people.
Those of us who truly know Lean Operational Excellence, know it to be quite the contrary. So how do you convince 800 professionals from the "caring professions" to take this at face value, to embrace Lean Operational Excellence as the way to save more peoples lives...that it compliments their values and not kills them.
Well, Eleanore Doyle who is one of their VP's and who really got the connection, worked with their marketing team to come up with the messaging and posters above.
"If she had all the time in the world then we could take ours"
"Working at the speed of life. Her Life"
Here there is no talk about "velocity", about reducing cycle times or the 8 wastes (although they needed to reduce the long and inefficient cycle times of clinical trials)
No talk about competitive pressures (of which there were many)
No talk about cutting costs (although more efficient ways of managing clinical trials was required)
Now that's what I call a cause...... and almost everybody followed.