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September 12, 2008

Jack Covert Selects: Jack Covert Selects - A Sense of Urgency

By: Dylan Schleicher @ 3:53 PM – Filed under: Management & Workplace Culture

A Sense of Urgency by John Kotter, Harvard Business School Press, 196 pages, $22.00 Hardcover, 190 pages, September 2008, ISBN 9781422179710 In 1997, Harvard Business School Press released the best book on change that I have ever read, entitled Leading Change. Authored by Professor John Kotter, it is so good that Todd and I included it in our book, The 100 Best Business Books of All Time, due out in February of 2009. In Leading Change, Kotter gives the reader an eight-stage process needed for a successful change initiative. In the decade since that book's release, his audiences asked him time and again about the first stage of that process, "establishing a sense of urgency," and how to accomplish it. Change cannot be accomplished without urgency, and A Sense of Urgency was written to answer that difficult problem. As Kotter states:
The Strategy [is to] create action that is exceptionally alert, externally oriented, relentlessly aimed at winning, making some progress each and every day, and constantly purging low value-added activities--all by focusing on the heart and not just the mind.
The author proceeds to lay out four sets of tactics to help you undertake creating this sense of urgency within your organization. The stories Kotter uses to illustrate these tactics are generally stories you haven't heard before, like that of the successful grocery chain that didn't notice the change going on around them until it was too late. This story helps to illustrate Kotter's first tactic of "bringing the outside in." If you are lucky enough to have had "historical success," it can lead to a "we know best" culture, which can insulate organizations from the outside world. Another issue is with a relatively strong position compared to others; you have a tendency not to look outside for disruptions. Finally with success often comes size, which adds to the lack of looking outside. One of the reasons I like John Kotter and his teaching style is that he knows the job is never done. Let's assume you've created a sense of urgency and had a change initiative succeed. How easy is it going to be to keep a sense of urgency strong after that initial success? Well, it's not easy, and Professor Kotter knows it. The final chapter of the book covers this problem.
The ultimate solution to the problem of urgency dropping after successes is to create the right culture. This is especially true as we move from a world in which change is mostly episodic to a world in which change is continuous.
This concise, easy-to-read book, written by one of the premier minds on the subject, will be the perfect roadmap to successful change, both for now and for the long-term.

About Dylan Schleicher


Dylan Schleicher has been a part of the 800-CEO-READ claque since 2003. Even though he's stayed on at the company, he has not stayed put. After beginning in shipping & receiving, he joined customer service and accounting before moving into his current, highly elliptical orbit of duties overseeing the ChangeThis and In the Books websites, the company's annual review of books and in-house design. He lives with his wife and two children in the Washington Heights neighborhood on Milwaukee's West Side.