Establishing a Sense of Urgency in Kotter's Model: Definition & Explanation Video

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  • 0:01 Kotter and Leading Change
  • 1:07 Organizational Change
  • 2:20 Establishing a Sense…
  • 2:59 Forces Working Against Urgency
  • 4:27 Creating Sources of Urgency
  • 5:29 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Bethany Davis

Bethany has taught college business courses and has a master's degree in organizational and human resource development.

In this lesson, we will explore the first stage (establishing a sense of urgency) of John Kotter's well-known 8-stage model of change. Kotter's model is useful to organizations of any size looking to implement critical strategic changes.

Kotter and Leading Change

John Kotter is a professor at Harvard Business School and the founder of Kotter International. He was named a leadership guru by Bloomberg BusinessWeek in 2001 and was named to the Thinkers50 in both 2011 and 2013. In addition, Kotter is a New York Times best-selling author. His books include Leading Change, in which he outlines an 8-stage model of change. In this lesson, we will focus on the first step of Kotter's 8-stage model of change, establishing a sense of urgency. Kotter argues that urgency is needed in the change process, because without it, people often won't give the needed extra push of hard work.

Establishing a sense of urgency helps managers of companies and leaders of change to fight against complacency. Complacency is often seen in employees who are satisfied with the status quo. When employees are complacent, we hear phrases such as 'well, we've always done it this way' or 'why make a change, the old way still works.' Urgency is the opposite of complacency. Urgency helps employees see the need for the change to take place.

Organizational Change

Organizational change efforts may be as simple as exploring which new copier model to select or as complicated as completely redirecting a company's strategic efforts. All organizations face the need for change, and learning to manage the change process enables organizations to weather the changes more successfully.

In his book Leading Change, Kotter argues that there are forces at work pushing organizations towards change, including globalization and technological advances. Globalization describes the borderless world of businesses today, meaning that all businesses, no matter how small or large, are facing competition from around the world. This is closely related to one of the largest technological advances, the Internet, which increases a company's ability to compete with others from around the world.

Kotter's 8-stage model of change walks managers through the critical parts of the organizational change process.

The eight steps include:

  1. Establishing a sense of urgency
  2. Creating the guiding coalition
  3. Developing a vision and strategy
  4. Communicating the change vision
  5. Empowering broad-based action
  6. Generating short-term wins
  7. Consolidating gains and producing more change
  8. Anchoring new approaches in the culture

Establishing a Sense of Urgency

Establishing a sense of urgency means you're trying to change the status quo, to push employees to no longer be complacent and to help employees see that it is critical to move forward sooner rather than later. In Kotter's plan, urgency is the opposite of complacency. If employees are complacent, there's no real reason to work on the project related to the change because you have not gained employee interest or convinced employees that putting in effort would be worth their time or energy. Kotter says that if urgency cannot be established, it is more difficult to move to the next stage (creating a guiding coalition) because there is no employee commitment in helping move the effort forward.

Forces Working Against Urgency

Kotter shares many sources of complacency - the opposite of urgency. There are a number of sources that may lead to complacent employees:

If employees do not see a crisis that requires change, they will not be motivated to engage in the change effort.

If employees see successes and resources all around them, they will not see a reason to engage in the change effort because the company appears to be successful without it.

The company's performance standards could be low. The organization may be too focused on 'narrow functional goals' rather than the bigger picture, and the performance management system may be designed in a way where employees almost always meet their objectives. Goals need to be attainable, yet challenging, in order to build motivation for employees.

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