Transformation challenges: There is no sense of urgency!

When I asked: “What would be the consequences of the status quo?”, my client, the president of a financial institution, replied: “I think the consequences would be catastrophic for the organization within four years.”

When the members of his management committee heard that, they sat up in their chairs. The sense of urgency had just gone up a notch. We had just created one of the first conditions for starting a transformation.

The value of a sense of urgency

If there’s one place where the sense of urgency should be grasped, felt and shared, it’s the management committee. Despite all the intelligence, expertise and experience of the committee members, however, they may not see or anticipate and indeed may underestimate the threats hanging over the organization.

Talk to the Blockbuster executives who did not see Netflix coming; to those in the music industry who are facing the dematerialization of media; to the people at Blackberry and Nokia who underestimated the impact of the arrival of the iPhone; to those at Kodak who have not made the digital shift; to General Motors and Chrysler executives who were saved from bankruptcy by the U.S. government; or to retail companies like Sears, hard hit by the emergence of e-commerce.

Every transformation starts with a realization

The starting point for any significant change is the realization that the status quo is not an option and that change is imperative.

Without that realization, why would any employee want to:

  • Engage in change, with all its associated discomfort and uncertainties?
  • Reassess their priorities?
  • Question their methods and those of their team, along with the proven behaviours and practices that they know produce results?

Share the sense of urgency

The sense of urgency starts at the top, but then it needs to be shared. How many times have I heard senior executives say that they don’t feel their employees have grasped the importance of moving forward and acting quickly?

Even if there is nothing catastrophic on the horizon, it is still essential for managers to develop a strategy for selling the need for change and thus mobilizing their teams and the entire company. How? Here are a few solutions:

  • Participatory workshops. Develop a participatory workshop where your managers are expected to figure out for themselves why a transformation is necessary. That was the successful approach taken by the president of the financial institution quoted above when he realized that his transformation had not been understood.
  • Rationale plus conversation. Explain and justify the transformation by summarizing, illustrating and presenting the statistics, trends and findings for your market, customers and competition. Then start the conversation and organize workshops to make people aware of the importance of making changes.
  • Appeal to emotions. Use testimonials, stories, tours and quizzes to underscore the need for transformation. Remember that emotion generally provides the catalyst for action.

Where is your organization at in terms of that sense of urgency and the realization that the status quo is not an option?

Marcel Auclair,
Cofounder, Vice President and Strategic Consultant
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