Creating a Sense of Urgency

Creating a Sense of Urgency

Tom Peters

Today’s competitive environment requires a sense of urgency; we must
challenge everything, change everything, improve everything – – and do
so rapidly. We must cut product-delivery and product- development
cycle times by 75 percent or more, become orders-of- magnitude more
responsive and implement thousands of individual and team quality-
improvement suggestions each day just to keep up with the Joneses (and
Hondas and Limiteds). To do so, we must remove excessive “layers” of
structure, provide a climate (and tools) that induce wholesale
participation and enhance first- line communication across functional
barriers. But even if we do all of these practical things, something
still will be missing: an intangible “X-factor.”

George Washington University business researcher Peter Vaill, the
pioneer scholar in a field called “high performing systems,” says that
stellar outfits — factories, machine shops, even Brownie troops —
are marked by a certain feel, or “aesthetic motivation.” A U.S. Air
Force general I know insists that the best air squadrons “hum.” An
Army colonel talks similarly about “hustle.” Like expressions include
“electricity in the air” and “in synch.”

How do we instill this electricity, hum or hustle? Here are five
prescriptions based on my observations:

1. Cut out excessive trappings of office, and follow a spartan
routine. Answer your own phone. Limit the splendor of the office
(splendor is relative; this applies equally to first-line supervisors
and chairpersons of $10 billion firms). I can’t tell you to fly coach or
drive a 1965 pickup truck; I can tell you doing so helps others take
your “lean, mean and urgent” speech seriously.

2. Be enthralled by the product or service. How do you get others
excited about the 2379B widget, or the new “home bakery” you’ve added
to your 125 supermarkets? The answer is simple — you must be excited
about it. How do you demonstrate your enthusiasm? Ask questions about
the product or service; personally show it off to everyone; display it
everywhere; brag about it (and its creators); use it (if possible). If
you’re not engaged with the product or service, others’ sense of
excitement will dampen immeasurably.

3. “Go to the sound of the guns.” The late U.S. Army Lieutenant
General Melvin Zais advised would-be generals to seek the center of
the maelstrom. The sound of the guns in business is wherever the
customer is. Want others to become obsessed with hustling to serve
customers? You go first. A big (and longtime) customer calls from the
other side of the country about a “little problem” with a new product.
The board meeting is only 72 hours away. You’ve got tough queries
coming. So what do you do? Call the sales vice-president and order him
to “get on it”? No. You go to the sound of the guns. With some public
fanfare, toss your board presentation aside, and order up a charter
jet to go to the customer (charters are okay when a big customer is

This suggestion also applies to lower-level managers and staff
managers. Be observed (by the people who report to you) cancelling an
important meeting with your boss’ boss in order to rush to a
customer’s side. If you are in a staff job, such as MIS, you might
rush to the aid of a factory manager for whom you are installing a new
CAM system. Yes, it is risky, but the risk you take as well as the
nature of the act itself will go a long way toward instilling that “X-

4. Laugh/cry/smile. “Hustle” and “electricity” are purely emotional.
The era of the effective but detached manager, supervisor or chief
executive is gone. Urgency throughout the organization and detachment
at the top (or in any managerial post) cannot co-exist.

This is not a “style tip.” Former Oakland Raiders Coach John Madden
was a screamer and arm waver. Dallas Cowboy Coach Landry has a
contained style. But talk with their players, as I have. Both Madden
and Landry are transparently emotional. Their will to win and their
passion for flawless execution are unmistakable.

5. Be the first to get to work — on the run. I recall the great
Oakland Athletics team of 1972 (few remember that Oakland is the only
team in the last 30 years to have won three consecutive World Series).
Young Vida Blue pitched for the A’s and was a whirlwind. But I most
vividly recall one of his small habits. Pitchers usually march to the
tune of a different drummer; among other things, they walk, often with
deliberate slowness, off the mound at the end of an inning. Not Blue.
He trotted off. And that simple trot came to symbolize the hustling,
scrounging, brilliantly successful A’s.

I urge you, then, to come to work first, and trot off of and onto the
mound. Your personal display of energy and zest for your task, your
product, the people you work with and life in general, especially if
you are visible constantly to the line, is the single most important
determinant of the organization’s “hum.”

(c) 1987 TPG Communications

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