In the book, we talk about the need to create a sense of urgency in order to catalyse digital transformation. It’s the first step in Kotter’s eight step process for managing organisational change. Yet there is an important difference to be drawn between the kind of urgency that can create positive, reinforcing momentum for change, and that which can instead spawn internal politics, fear and paralyse progress.
The wrong side of urgency can generate what Kotter (in Accelerate) describes as ‘anxiety-driven activity’, and lead to misdirection, panic, poor decision-making. Far better, he says, to frame the need to change in the context of a positive ‘big opportunity’. Opportunity-driven urgency engenders dynamic, positive and directional energy and pro-activity. It enables sustainable action. This is about winning hearts as well as minds. Too many vision statements are either vague platitudes to customer-centricity, or populated with meaningless jargon.
A ‘big opportunity’ should be emotionally compelling and motivating, but link to a change vision that gives a clear picture of what is needed to realise the opportunity, and a strategy that creates the path to success:
Kotter makes a couple of additional points related to the big opportunity. The importance of never assuming that the people you are leading can see what you see, are in the same place, have gone on the same journey that you have. And the value of positive energy in creating sustained effort at a high level.
The difference between a burning platform that creates anxiety-driven activity, and great leadership that can express opportunity-driven urgency, is perhaps the most critical starting point for any digital transformation.