Prof.John P. Kotter says the thing that organizations struggle with most and find the most difficult is developing a sense of urgency that filters throughout the firm. And, he's been studying, teaching and writing about leadership for more than 20 years.
As the Konosuke Matsushita Professor of Leadership, Emeritus at Harvard Business school, Kotter is widely regarded as a leading authority on leadership and change and a voice on how the best organizations actually do change.
One significant finding in his studies of organizations, is that having a sense of urgency was at the core of successful organizational change--and that the single biggest error people make when they try to change is not creating a high enough sense of urgency among enough people to set the stage for making a challenging leap into some new direction.
This is especially true now, as the global shift from episodic to continuous change has huge implications for corporate performance.
Kotter spoke recently with Financial Executive Editor-in Chief Ellen M. Heffes about some key findings in his research and shared insights into how finance executives can gain perspectives and the skills they need to create and sustain a sense of urgency as their organizations face challenge and change.
Kotter is author and co-author of several best-selling books including his most recent, A Sense of Urgency, (Harvard business Press, Sept.2008).
Q Who needs this "urgency" attitude, and why now?
Kotter | I it all relates to change. The data we've been finding--not just numerical or opinions but in so many dimensions--shows that the rate of change is going up and up in most industries, for most companies, in most countries and in most functions within companies. As the rate of change goes up, an organization's capacity to deal with that, find opportunities and avoid hazards becomes more important.
The pattern we've found on how the best firms handle the change starts with increasing their sense of urgency first. Second, since change for organizations is not just episodic (that is to say, some initiative comes along, you do it and you're done with it), it's increasingly becoming continuous, different initiatives of different sorts are coming at you, start to finish, on a regular basis.
In this [continuous change] situation, a sense of urgency goes beyond just the first step in a successful change program; it becomes an essential corporate capability in dealing with a faster-moving environment....