Most successful startups have a sense of urgency about them. It is something that individuals can exhibit and can be manifested across an entire team or company. Urgency can help breed success. Misplaced or misunderstood urgency can be extremely damaging, however.
In my experience the sense of urgency in business is often not well comprehended. It is something that comes instinctively to most entrepreneurs, but to make urgency scalable across an enterprise, it is important to recognize what urgency is — and what it is not.
A sense of urgency includes impatience. I have yet to meet a successful entrepreneur who is not impatient. We all want to get to market faster, grow more rapidly, shorten sales cycles, and accomplish more in less time. The best companies see this impatience across the board — not just with the founders and executive team. Every individual should be impatient to achieve more success. That means focusing in on how one can achieve better results more quickly on their own, but also how they can encourage and assist others in the enterprise to do the same.
A sense of urgency is not frantic. There is an important difference between impatient and frantic. Impatience retains rationality where frantic behavior eschews reason. Impatience accelerates appropriate tasks while the frantic among us create the dramatic appearance of motion. Impatience helps triage workflow to eliminate less necessary activities while frantic efforts tend to recklessly displace necessary tasks. Frantic behavior most often occurs as teh result of a leader pressing for urgency without helping the team to understand what it means. Frantic behavior is damaging because it leads to frayed nerves and demoralizing negative energy.
A sense of urgency requires a willingness to change. It is rare that an organization — no matter how successful — has no need to change. A sense of urgency demands that a company and its employees examine individual and team behavior and activities to determine which should rise and which should fall. Assumptions must be questioned. Routines should be altered. Inertia must be fought. Change must be embraced.
A sense of urgency is not the same as level of effort. It is entirely possible for individuals to work hard and still not exhibit a sense of urgency. How often have you noted that you may be working hard but not working on the right thing? A sense of urgency drives toward more efficient work, not necessarily more of it. Urgency relates more to the prioritization of work effort rather than the absolute amount of input.
The Manny Ramirez Analogy. If you’re not a Red Sox fan — or at least an observer of baseball — this analogy will make no sense. My apologies. For those who are, however, consider Manny Ramirez and Dustin Pedroia. Manny Ramirez had all sorts of natural baseball talent. If he chose to, he could have been perhaps the best player of his era. He even worked hard, by all accounts. He spent lots of time at the ballpark working out and preparing. But he lacked a sense of urgency. He didn’t aggressively and intelligently run out base hits. He would take himself out of games for no apparent reason other than that he did not feel like playing. He cared more about feeling like he was being treated well by the team than in helping the team to succeed.
Dustin Pedroia, on the other hand, lacks many of the physical attributes and natural abilities that made Manny Ramirez a great baseball player. But he has a sense of urgency that is palpable — even to fans in the upper deck. He shows up every day and plays hard. He guts out the run to first on every ground ball, hoping that he will beat the throw to the bag or the fielder will make a mistake. He demonstrates a healthy intensity that has enabled him to rise to the top of his profession. It is that sense of urgency that makes Dustin Pedroia and others like him successful.
By fostering a sense of urgency across the enterprise, entrepreneurs and executives stand to build better companies faster.