In order for us to talk about communicating a sense of urgency, we must first examine where this need for urgency came from: unhappy employees, high turnover rate, loss of revenue, confusing mission statement, inaction, and an inability to transform and overcome the static slump. In other words: a drowsy company. And a sleeping company isn’t a thriving one. A sense of urgency provides access to growth from the inside out. In other words, it is activating your business, employees, and you to succeed.

A professor at Harvard Business School changed the word urgency from what is generally perceived as negative to a positive in business. John Kotter, aforementioned professor, and founder of Kotter International, presented the idea that urgency in business can lead to a shift in business as usual. In his book Leading Change, Kotter outlines an 8-stage model of change, but for the purposes of this article, I will break it down to these 4 stages.

You Win Some. You Win Some.

In my opinion, there is no such thing as a small win. A win’s a win, period. Diminishing successes magnify failures. Creating a sense of urgency can start with a company’s inner dialogue. Sometimes, the simplest way to inspire employees is redefining negative language.

In fact, according to Words Can Change Your Brain, written by Loyola Marymount communication professor Mark Robert Waldman and Andrew Newberg, M.D., director of research at the Myrna Brind Center of Integrative Medicine at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital and Medical College, our brains are word-receptors with targeted responses to positive (and negative) speech.

An interview with Dr. Newberg and Salon goes further by claiming that the effects aren’t just emotional, it’s science:

Starting in childhood, humans’ brains are molded by the words they hear, and they claim that teaching children to use positive words helps them with emotional control and can even increase their attention spans. Their book describes “compassionate communication,” a method they believe can help people express themselves more effectively, but it also offers a fascinating overview of the latest science around speech and neuroscience.

So scientifically speaking: there’s no such thing as a small victory!

Say Goodbye to Old Baggage.

When debating whether to keep or let go of an employee not carrying his or her weight, I refer to something I overheard once: “If you spend more than an hour a week complaining about an employee, it’s time to let them go”. After all, you want a business anchored in its mission statement, its strategies for the future — not a complacent employee who is ‘anchoring’ everyone down. It’s not just bad for the morale of the employees who do have a sense of urgency and passion for the company, it’s literally bad for business.

A Gallup poll recently reported that ‘bad employees’, “

[…] cost the U.S. $450 billion to $550 billion in lost productivity per year.” Furthermore, the same poll estimated that these employees aren’t only less productive, they are more prone to stealing, and work against the company’s goals. For managers, owners, or executives who think that firing these lagging employees is more trouble than its worth, they need to think again.

Mission Actions, Not Mission Statements.

“Think outside the box” are words that have, frankly, been beaten to death. Most times, when I hear this, it’s from people who don’t think or act outside the box. Instead of thinking outside, I am a huge proponent of acting outside the box, which is to say, action is everything. People who think their intentions define who they are letting themselves off the hook, because intentions don’t convey a sense of urgency — just the opposite. Intentions can give people an excuse to stand still, do nothing, and sit on their laurels, i.e. meaning mission statement.

I don’t mean to disparage those with good intentions because action does begins with an intention, or an idea. But the mission statement of your company should be more than intentions or words. A mission statement without a sense of urgency can become a statement that is too confusing, too general, and too much fluff. The best way to evoke a sense of authenticity is to act authentically, and most importantly, follow through on your mission statement.

The Answer is Always Yes.

Yes is an action word. No is not. So find ways to foster the spirit of willingness in your company. Building successful companies is beyond the brick and mortar, it is building something substantial through both the grand and the minute and though one three letter word seems small, it’s anything but.

From the words of a well-known ‘yes man’, and Google executive chairman, Eric Schmidt,

“[…] Even if it’s a bit edgy, a bit out of your comfort zone, saying yes means you will do something new, meet someone new and make a difference in your life, and likely in others’ lives as well. … Yes is a tiny word that can do big things. Say it often.”

In my personal experience, saying yes has indeed led to mostly successful (oftentimes interesting) ventures. Though this practice doesn’t always reap the rewards Schmidt proposes, I definitely try to say yes as often as I can.

Last Thoughts

To be clear, urgency shouldn’t be mistaken for frenetic, anxious energy. Instead, it is a dynamic, morale-boosting, personalized introduction to a failing or lackluster business. Even thriving companies should promote a perpetual and consistent sense of urgency. Success is a constantly moving entity — which means, your business has to be as well.