Kotter's Leading Change Step 1

Establishing a Sense of Urgency


Transforming your organisation begins with understanding the importance of urgency to build momentum at the beginning of the change process. Kotter's seminal book Leading Change* outlines eight steps to drive organisational change and transformation. The first of these steps, establishing a sense of urgency, is examined here.

A sense of urgency

A sense of urgency provides motivation for the change to happen. Change can be difficult to achieve and without a strong uniting force that reinforces why the change is necessary to the survival of the organisation, it is unlikely to gain traction and succeed. Therefore, this first step is critical to the success of the remaining steps. It can be more difficult to achieve than is usually anticipated.

It might be easy to assume with economic pressures and increasingly competitive markets, that there would be plenty of scope for identifying a sense of urgency to drive change. Getting past the mindset that an organisation's pressures, issues or challenges only apply to others, not oneself, is key. In practice, this step requires working with individuals to help them understand that they are impacted, how they must feel the sense of urgency and experience how the change will affect them. This is critically important as it is the individual that will have to change what they do and move out of their comfort zone to make the organisation's changes happen.

For many organisations the urgency is already established at the point of starting the change process. However, it is feasible for an organisation to look ahead and review the market and competitive realities of their business. This way they can identify problem areas or major opportunities that would arise from making changes to the business. For example, a decreasing market share, new competitors, market changes, or technological or other advances could all trigger a substantial change to the organisation.

Kotter's research indicates that the rate of urgency high enough to drive the change is when "75% of a company's management is honestly convinced that business as usual is totally unacceptable." If it is an organisation wide change that is proposed, then it must be the Head / CEO that believes in and drives the change as a Change Champion to ensure success.

Since its publication, Kotter has expanded on the importance of the need for urgency and his book A Sense of Urgency* explores this in more detail whereby a sense of urgency is made real by individuals thoughts, feelings and behaviours towards the change.


Kotter discusses this in detail in his video "Importance of Urgency."

Encouraging people to think and act outside of their comfort zone is hard and no matter how good the business case is for the change this first step will be difficult to complete. Try not to rush onto the next step, patience and perseverance are required to get the change and transformation effort off to the right start.

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