Published in


Tyranny of the Urgent

In an age of overwhelm and busy-ness, often the last thing people have is the time to reflect, assess, ponder and determine a way forward that will systematically make a difference. This choice is made by millions of people every day as they endeavor to meet their operational mandates. One after another, we dig our heads in the sand and work tirelessly to ‘keep things going’, giving power to our busy-ness and refusing to look up.

In this kind of environment, the Urgent is a grim faced task master and spending time in a non-linear strategic and non-urgent (see Covey) space can seem unnerving. The question is:

Is the Urgent helping us make the right decisions, or just pushing us to make any decision?

If organizations and leaders cannot create the time and space to look up and reflect on their environments, then we will be doomed to simply repeat the same way of getting things done until the externalities force a change. While a burning platform is one change model, and has certainly been effective in some case, there has to be a better way.

In response, we would like to share three tips for turning the tyranny of the urgent into a force for change.

1. Change is Not A Hobby

Many leaders understand this innately. They know, especially nowadays, that simply doing the same thing over and over again will not get them where they need to go. But they too, are under the pressure of the Urgent to deliver short-term results for their organizations. The result of this tension is that Change Efforts end up being run as a hobby project off the side of their desk.

“Well, Jane, you’re doing a great job delivering these projects, so we’d like you to take on this transformational initiative as well.” Sound familiar?

Change is not a hobby; it is a strategic and operational navigation choice. As a result, change initiatives cannot be run as side projects with no resources, little guidance or few metrics. As you determine the feasibility of adopting a change in your organization, take time to consider:

  • Your strategic drivers: If the change is a response to the Urgent task master, or a legitimate driver. Is it something that needs to be adopted right now or can it wait?
  • Your operational time and space: If the change drivers are legitimate, does the organization have time and space to take it on? Is the change in conflict with other initiatives? What could the organization stop doing to make room for a new change initiative?

2. Change Requires Consent

Individuals and business units affected by a change will rarely adopt the change if they are not substantially involved in co-creating the way forward. This is often called “resistance” but really, it’s more of a question of buy-in and fair process whereby the people being affected do not feel they have a voice. Naturally, push back occurs and sometimes individuals try and just “wait it out”. Typically, this kind of imposition only creates more pressure and eventually leads to change tiredness, low adoption rates and burn-out.

People have free will and as such, change requires consent in order for uptake and adoption — especially when the changes being requested require a change to mental models or behaviors. As you design your change platform, take the time to consider:

  • Your narrative: Does the change have a clear narrative and purpose? Is there a level of readiness and understanding towards the need for change? Have you involved your business in designing the change to ensure it aligns with their level of readiness and innovation?

3. Change is an Orchestration of Empowerment and Chaos

When it comes to enabling your people to make the kind of changes we’re looking for in an organization — on the ground, close to the work, and with short timelines — how do we balance between kick starting new initiatives and new ways of working with the general chaos that ensures when you call in to question “the way things have always been done”?

Let’s consider an orchestra. A fairly large group of individuals, each with their own talent and tools, but aligned to a similar song book. Then, a typically frenetic conductor waving a small stick in the general direction of the group, keeping them on track and in synch. The conductor is setting the speed, expression, volume, length and pace to align everyone — leaving each person to use their own talents and skill sets independently.

By aligning cadence, pace and tone we can reach a fine balance between chaos and empowerment without compromising the creative process. As you guide your organization through the change, consider:

  • The body of knowledge of your employees: do your people have the competencies and skills they need to implement on the change? Are you making time and space for people to develop their skills at pace with the organizational change?
  • The physical and digital environment and tools: are they supporting the change process? DO they share common principles with your desired change (i.e. collaborative tools for a collaborative change)
  • The relationships: have you created partnerships and mutually supporting relationships with stakeholders, vendors, other organizations to support the change process?

Each of these tips will save you time and help establish a change process where you are guiding the way, instead of your Urgent task master. The first step is to look up.

Looking for help guiding your organization through constant change? Enroll in our Guiding Constant Change Course

Co-written by Mack Adams and Sandra Daniel



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store