With some people (like owners and managers), everything seems to be urgent, pressing, dire, critical, serious, or top-priority. With others—employees who are laid-back, casual, carefree, lackadaisical, or even unconcerned—nothing is urgent.
In business, a general sense of urgency is a good thing, but it usually doesn’t happen automatically.
My mother recently fell and broke her pelvic bone. She recovered in a rehab facility. Never-ending patient demands at the care center kept staff on-the-run all day long. Urgency, and the resulting productivity, is built into the culture. The business owner just smiles as he watches people scurry around getting their work done.
You may not be so lucky. Most owners and managers have to be more creative to infuse their company culture with a sense of urgency. If done successfully, however, the payoff includes motivated employees, happy customers, lower costs, and increased profit.
An Example of Urgency
When I was a young man going to college, I worked for a company that had a “hot product.” We were three weeks behind in production and shipping. Customers were constantly calling to have us trace their order, thinking it must be lost. A picture hung on the wall with a chimpanzee dressed as a shipping clerk. To a customer over the telephone, the chimp declared, “Trace it! We haven’t even shipped it yet.” That was our story.
Every shipment was urgent to prevent orders from being canceled. One day, I decided to pack an extra twenty cases of product and process a few more orders after my regular shift was over. It took me another twenty minutes. Continuing each day, I packed an additional hundred cases in the week and about 450 cases in the month. My shipping buddy decided to join in, and we completed nearly a thousand extra cases during the month for our employer. It was urgency that drove us to it. (And truthfully, we wanted to avoid being yelled at by angry customers or a grumpy-pants boss.)
Bad Urgency vs. Good Urgency
The urgency that comes from “putting out fires” is not good. It is the result of poor planning and execution of business operations. This kind of urgency is very stressful and a real downer for everyone.
However, when the energy is properly harnessed, urgency can elevate business performance and produce amazing results (motivated employees, happy customers, lower costs, and increased profit).
Simply put, urgency will increase productivity and accelerate the sale of goods and services. Employees are motivated by a sense of accomplishment (and sometimes incentive pay). Customers love to receive products fast. Higher sales-throughput enables a company to reach its break-even point earlier in the month, and that sends profits soaring. Everyone wins!
Dos and Don’ts
Before you try to introduce urgency into your business operation, keep in mind there is a RIGHT WAY and a WRONG WAY to go about it.
Here are three things you don’t want to do to add the element of urgency:
- Don’t set goals to motivate people that are unrealistic. Goals that are too hard to reach kill motivation and cause resentment (especially when there is a financial incentive involved).
- Don’t skip steps in a proven business process. Skipping steps such as a preparation step or a quality-control step for the sake of urgency will create problems that nullify any gains.
- Don’t turn up the speed on the conveyor belt. People can only work so fast and still maintain quality. Efficiency is better achieved by eliminating speed bumps and system busters than by pushing people beyond a reasonable work pace.
- Let customer expectations drive the urgency. Tell customers you have next-day shipping or one-week lead time, or a specified completion date. Employees will do what it takes to fulfill the company promise.
- Set daily, weekly and/or monthly goals. Speed and urgency naturally increase as people get closer to a deadline. For example, employee productivity accelerates to meet a shipping goal by the end of the week (e.g., number of boxes, orders, or dollars). It is a good idea to post results and hold people accountable for achieving the stated goal.
- Create financial or other incentives. Self-interest is highly motivating for most people. A good incentive system—financial or otherwise—will lift employees, speed processes, and drive down unit costs.
- Declare an emergency. This infusion of urgency can only be used once in a while and should be substantially true (e.g., you may lose an order). Proclaiming an “emergency” too often is an indication of weak management. Declaring emergencies that are not real is like the boy who cried, “Wolf.” The plea for help will eventually be ignored.
Keep in mind: a high-level of urgency cannot be sustained. People have peaks and valleys of energy and productivity. They can’t stay in top-form all day, every day. You have to accept that. However, you can have higher and longer-lasting peaks and shorter-shallower valleys by adding one or more of the urgency triggers described above.
Where Do You Start?
Infuse the power of urgency into the weakest of your core processes for selling and delivering products and/or services. Watch as surrounding workers and processes catch the fever. Keep an eye out for the physical bottlenecks that may be holding people back, and elevate those constraints.
Oh, and one more thing: kick your business into high gear with Box Theory™ products.