Creating a Sense of Urgency

Kotter model of leading change – Step One is to create a sense of urgency. This is what it means.

Creating a sense of urgency

Leading Change the Kotter Way

Creating a sense of urgency is Step One in the well-established Kotter model of leading change.  But what exactly does that mean?

After 30 years of research, Dr John Kotter believes that most major change initiatives fail mainly because organisations don’t commit to seeing the change through and don’t take a holistic approach throughout.   He has demonstrated that his 8 step process provides the most credible way of delivering and embedding large-scale organisational change.

His method elaborates and enlarges upon Lewin’s simple Freeze Phase, three stage approach – square, blob, star.  The underlying principles are the same. The model is based on research which showed that there are eight critical steps an organization or service needs to go through to ensure that change happens and sticks. This series of posts considers these steps in greater detail. we have already reissued;  Step Two: Forming a Powerful CoalitionStep Three Creating a Vision for Change and Step Four: Communicating Your Vision.

You have to work really hard

When I put the words ‘creating a sense of urgency’ into a search engine, I came up with all kinds of great ideas!  For example,  inspiring the team to work together towards a goal!  Lots of pleasant and positive stuff. Sounds good doesn’t it –  makes you feel good!  The problem is that, sadly, these positive ideas don’t work if you want to make fundamental change in an organisation.

Kotter reckons that for change to be successful, 75% of a company’s management needs to “buy into” the change. In other words, you have to really work hard on Step One, and spend significant time and energy creating a sense urgency, before moving onto the next steps. Unfortunately, there are no pleasant and easy answers.

It is hard to persuade groups of people to move a long way out of  their comfort Creating a sense of urgencyzone!  They will not move unless they understand that staying where they are is not an option! That means convincing them that staying where they are is going to be painful, or is simply no longer possible.

As my old lecturer in change management said somewhere back in the 90s – unless the pain of staying where you are is greater than the pain of moving, you usually stay put! He started the lecture with a picture of an amoeba and gave us a lecture on the fundamentals of stimulus! He was pretty focused on the importance of creating a sense of urgency. Without it, there would be no fundamental change!

So what can you do for your group?  It isn’t as simple as just showing them the sales figures, or other written evidence of need, and expecting them to respond.  You need to work with them. Go through the figures and then help them think through the consequences of doing nothing! Make it real. Not just consequences for the organisation, but for them. Help them to ask; “What will it mean for me in six months if nothing changes?”

Let them understand and absorb the threat. Then, work with them to think through options for the future and how they can move forward.

Share the pain and then show how you can share the gain.

Show them what they have to  gain from making a change. This may not be much but there will always be something! If the facts mean potential redundancies, work out how can you work together to mitigate the effects.

Are there new working patterns that you can adopt, for example, flexible or short-time working? Are there new markets to explore. What do they know about that might be helpful?

But, be careful. There is a difference between sharing the pain so that together you can make a change  and creating panic. There is a big difference between creating a sense of urgency and throwing things into chaos.

Do your homework before you start.

You are the leader and you need to remain in the leadership seat. Keep your nerve. It won’t be easy but then no one said being a leader was easy! Prepare well – you will face some challenging questions!

Don’t be naive! When they leave your meeting or presentation, the rumour mill will get to work. So, follow up with good information. Keep the communications flowing about your plans. Always be prepared to answer questions and be available. There will be some questions afterwards that they wished they’d asked at the meeting.

If you have experience of creating a sense or urgency, please share your war stories.  If you have a change to make – I hope things go very well for you! In the meantime if you need help please get in touch, I’ve been there before you.


Here is a Kotter Reading List for you;

Wendy Smith is a career consultant, life coach and business coach with depth of experience in management, coaching and personal development. That experience means she is equally at home helping clients find a new career direction, starting-up new businesses or dealing with life’s more challenging personal issues. You can contact her at

Wendy has written a little eBook on how to get on with your boss and a book on job search – you can find her books on Amazon at this link


Author: Wendy

Wendy Mason Smith is a Life Coach, Career Coach, Business Coach and Writer.

5 thoughts on “Creating a Sense of Urgency”

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