The business world is changing ever more rapidly these days. If you see a need or a big opportunity but don’t act fast enough, the opportunity will pass or a competitor will get there before you do. Customers and opportunities don’t wait. If your startup culture doesn’t include a sense of urgency, your probabilities of long-term success are miniscule.
Some of you may remember MySpace, which came early to social media, but lost the lead to Facebook by evolving too slowly, many analysts say. Other examples often mentioned include Hashable and MapQuest. A sense of urgency won’t save a bad idea or the wrong team, but the good news is that it will fail faster, allowing people to move on quickly to more productive opportunities.
A culture of urgency does not mean a hyperactive reaction to the crisis of the moment. It does mean a proactive and ever-vigilant plan to keep moving forward with the market and stay ahead of competition, even if you must make your own products obsolete. As an advisor to entrepreneurs, I recommend the following practices to build and nurture an urgency culture:
1. Be a visible role model for urgency vs emergency.
We all know the harried startup founder who is great at putting out fires. Better startup leaders display a calm but visible urgency for scaling the business, designing the next product generation and attracting customers just out of reach. Culture follows the leader.
2. Demonstrate the positives of urgency to the team.
Make urgency a positive by highlighting the value to your company for getting the right things done, and publicly rewarding empowered team activities. Don’t let false urgency add fear and stress, or be a de-motivator. Emergencies are problems, whereas urgencies are opportunities to win.
3. Exhibit urgency in your personal operating style.
That means consistently delivering on personal commitments and deadlines, and showing up for work on time. Don’t be seen as wasting your or other people’s time on casual conversations, or long, drawn-out meetings. Get to the key point quickly and encourage everyone to do the same.
4. Communicate milestones and wins to all constituents.
People on the team need to see progress, investors relish growth and customers love brands that appear to be on the forefront of a wave. People never get tired of being thanked for their contributions. A sense of urgency will blossom and contribute even more.
5. Tie internal measurements to marketplace data.
Many internal teams are content to measure their productivity against their own prior periods, while competitors and market changes may set whole new benchmarks. Constantly urge urgency with external market data, competitor announcements and innovative approaches from outside.
6. Translate emergency implications into urgency.
Once a crisis has been resolved, convene the team to address the longer term changes required to prevent recurrence. These root-cause analyses are often forgotten in the heat of the next problem. Smart entrepreneurs focus on turning emergencies into the next opportunities.
7. Set an urgency tone in hiring, feedback and training.
Perfectionism, skepticism and complacency are the antitheses of urgency. Don’t hire people with these attributes, and remove or retrain them quickly, before others are infected and your credibility is lost. Promote and generously reward people delivering stretch results and innovations.
8. Get the team engaged in urgency.
Just talking and reading about it is not enough. Plan team events and games where urgent physical actions are rewarded. Produce a video with potential viral impact and bring in your best customers for a brainstorming session and lunch with your team.
When was the last time you walked the halls of your startup and palpably felt that sense of urgency that will keep your business in the forefront of a rapidly changing marketplace? Maybe it’s time to check your own leadership style and practices to see you are sending the right messages to your team. Try to squeeze it in before you get tied up handling the next crisis.