Do you have difficulties as a manager in convincing your senior management to give priority to the improvements you deem necessary within your department?
Do you struggle to engage the wider organization with the importance of striving for operational excellence and displaying pro-active, client-centred behaviour?
This is a very common situation for a lot of managers in Quality, Finance, Operations, Production and Supply Chain (roles / companies).
One of the best ways to change this is to create a sense of urgency both at management level and in the organization. But the main question is: how to do this in a way that doesn’t upset senior management and you don’t come across as an overly concerned person who is out of touch with reality?
Typically, you will only get one chance to properly create a sense of urgency. If it doesn’t succeed in the first try, most likely you won’t be taken seriously for long. Even worse, if you do it wrong, it might severely damage trust in your organization.
It’s important though to realize that you must follow-up with a good plan and execute it. If you fail to do so, you will potentially do a lot of harm to the organization and certainly to your credibility as a manager. This article is therefore part of a bigger picture. For an overview, read 7 Steps to Improve Business Performance in the Food Manufacturing Industry.
Choose the right strategy
There are two ways to generate a sense of urgency: at an individual and organisational level. One is to show the benefit of a certain approach. The bigger the benefit, the larger the sense of urgency (or wanting). The other is to work with fear of an (acute) danger. The latter is usually stronger, but also should be used with more care. Sometimes it’s good to use a combination of both to create a maximum sense of urgency.
Let’s discuss the three options.
The most elegant way to create a sense of urgency is to focus on the benefits of a certain strategy or action. However, the risk is that as soon as the benefit is perceived not to be there anymore (or to a lesser extent), the sense of urgency might disappear rapidly. To prevent that, you must focus 100% on the benefits and their size, impact and duration to create a sense of urgency solely based on them.
When you choose to create a sense of urgency based on fear or, to put it more mildly, a potential future hazard to the company or an individual (from now on we will refer to organization only, but you can insert individual as well), you must be 100% sure that the (perceived) hazard could occur with realistic certainty. Most of the time you will need to convince others. It’s therefore important to properly document the hazard, its likelihood and impact, so that most people having access to the detailed information would come to the same conclusion.
The third option – creating a sense of urgency by using a combination of both benefit and hazard – is usually the best one, because you will be perceived as having looked at a topic or business areas from all angles.
Creating a sense of urgency stands or falls in good preparation. Most managers will relate all their decisions to money. Therefore, the financial impact (benefits or profits, and hazards or costs) on the organization is the first aspect to address. In particular you will need to indicate the level of certainty and timing to achieve the benefits, and the likelihood and impact of future hazards.
If you don’t have data about impact, you may want to conduct a failure costs analysis first (this overview is a good starting point), and, if reduction of time consumption is one of the benefits, also an activity analysis (here’s a template).
Remember that the impact assessment must go together with the likelihood of hazards and a realistic timing of benefits. There would be no point in working on a project to prevent hazards that aren’t likely to occur, or unattainable benefits, even if they would have a large impact.
When creating a sense of urgency, it’s important to have some strong and influential allies first. You don’t want to stand in front of your management team with a lot of questions and criticism being thrown at you without any support.
In order to find out who your best allies could be, map your stakeholders according the schedule shown here and identify those with high power in the organization, as these can make or break the message you are trying to get across.
Next, identify those with high interest but low power, as they might help you get a more detailed insight into benefits and hazards during your preparation process.
There’s one important stakeholder you don’t need a map to identify: your boss. Always start from him/her. If your line manager doesn’t have a similar view or doesn’t at least support the process of trying to create a sense of urgency in the organization, you better think twice.
Sometimes you will have to be persistent and even go as high as the CEO or company owner if your boss really doesn’t support you, but in such a case you want to make sure to have a wide group of stakeholders agreeing with you up front.
You should go to the interviews with stakeholders with a very detailed picture of the potential benefits and the potential impact of the identified hazards. A simple but elegant technique you can use for this is creating a mind map and/or use the 5-Why-Analysis.
During the interviews with stakeholders you’re going to test whether they see the same benefits and / or hazards as you do. You want to let them do the talking and listen very carefully to their arguments and insights. This will help you shape your plan in terms of costs and benefits. If one or more stakeholders strongly agree to your point of view, use this to your advantage. Prior to discussing it in the management team, have a second meeting with them and show them your presentation. It’s a good way to rehearse it and make their support more likely during the meeting when required.
Have a plan
Before the meeting with the management team you need to prepare a good high-level plan, whose details will be included in the presentation. Creating a sense of urgency without having one wold be pointless
The plan should encompass all areas of the issue(s) you are trying to address and at the same time be realistic and achievable. A good practice is to split it into bigger building blocks and, within each block, create a view on the first and most important activities to employ in the coming year (starting at the time you seek approval for your plan). Here’s an example of a typical building block structure you can choose for a company-wide approach to improve internal capabilities and performance.
The main topic of the meeting will be to create a sense of urgency and focus on the key issues and deliverables for the first year only. However, during the discussion make clear that your plan is not a project with a beginning and an end, but it’s part of a bigger scheme, an ongoing effort to create a lasting change of direction, behaviour and engagement in the organization. Quite naturally, it will be a multi-year plan that you’re going to update 2-3 years from now.
Before the meeting with your management team, have a look at this presentation. It includes some strong examples from well-known companies in the field of quality and food safety and a comparison between the impact of a food safety-related (consumer) fatality and a safety-related (employee) fatality. Although both are tragic events, what most companies fail to see is that a food-safety related fatality might even lead the organisation to bankruptcy.
Finally, remember to keep the presentation crisp and concise. Do not use too many slides and long sentences on the slides – the audience must be able to follow your line of thoughts and not start reading slides from the screen.