34: Creating Urgency for Change

Old Way, New Way
Change can be difficult but often necessary

Change is great when you are in charge of it, but not so much when it is thrust upon us. In this episode I want to discuss how leaders manage a major change initiative, get others to see the?vision, and recruit them to help you lead the change into fruition.

?A Change imposed is a change opposed.?-Spencer Johnson from Who Moved my Cheese?

Today we are talking about urgency for change and the human nature of making this happen. Change often seems?difficult, but not changing can be even riskier. We need to change so we can improve. You have to watch out for the condition that I like to call ?The hardening of the Categories? that prevents us from staying lean, flexible, pliable, and open to change.


Never Stop Learning, Never Stop Growing

The book Geeks and Geezers has a wonderful Greek?word that illustrates the way we want to be, and that word is Neoteny: from the Greek ‘Neos’ which means new, fresh, or youthful and ‘Oteny’ which means the retention of youthful qualities by an adult.

The authors of Geeks and Geezers say that?’Neotiny’ is not just maintaining a youthful appearance, but also maintaining the mental and emotional qualities of youth such as curiosity, playfulness, eagerness, fearlessness, warmth and energy. Geezers need to be more like geeks that are eager to face the day, take risks

Creating a sense of urgency for change is the first critical step in creating change. We need to do whatever is necessary to create discomfort among people to get them moving in a different direction.

Here are the basic guidelines to consider when beginning to orchestrate a change:

  1. Basically we are trying to get people to move form point A to point B, which will never happen if they are too comfortable where they are at.
  2. Create a guiding coalition of the dissatisfied that will lead the way into the future. This is not a majority, but a group a of people to help.
  3. Don?t jump the gun: When you see something that needs changed, you don?t want to try to jump in and fix it or tweak it on it?s own. Invariably you will go in without planning, and quickly get way over your head. This leaves the people you live or work with resenting you for stepping in on something that they did not even think was broke in the first place.
  4. You cannot roll out a big change without creating a case for change, explaining to people why the change is necessary before laying out what needs to be done.

Here is my definition of a case for change: ‘The rationale you articulate to explain why things are broken, how things are not working right, and the urgency of the risks if things are not addressed.’ This is the first homework of a change agent.


Case for Change Creates Urgency

?With complacency high transformations usually go nowhere because few people are interested on working on the change program.? – John Kotter

4 Factors of Doubt

  1. We did not know there was a problem: if it Ain?t broke?..
  2. We are in shock about your solution to a non-problem
  3. Ambush factor: we had no idea the change was coming.
  4. We offered no input for the solutions imposed on us (when possible it is good to have an open process for change).

It is also important to remember my Cardinal Rule for Managing Change: assume that everyone but you will hate your plan for change at least initially.

Liberating elephants

Elephants are trained to stay in one place when they are young?by being chained to a stake in the ground. When they get older and are powerful enough to pull the stake out they don?t even try because they have been trained that they cannot move from there. In fact, older elephants are often not even attached to a stake, as just having the chain around their foot is enough training to keep them there.

Many companies and churches are bound by earlier conditional constraints, ?we have always done things that way.? Staying youthful and progressive prevents groups from growing old.

When an elephant sees the tent catch fire it forgets the old conditioning. So we need to set a fire in our organizations that won?t burn the company down but will create an urgency for?change.

Pioneers and mavericks that will help you in the change process are risk takers. As the leader you are the purveyor of hope, and you must paint the picture or start the fire, than find people to come along with you.



  1. Change is the river that must be traversed between the land of opportunity and the land of pending disaster.
  2. Clearly define the opportunity or problem as you see it from the perspective of the people most affected. Sit down with the people above?and below you in your organization and get their input and insights.
  3. Discuss with those potentially affected?with this change to see what they see in the change process, ask them to help you implement the change.
  4. Recruit and enlist these people in the change process.
  5. Communicate, over communicate with the organization the opportunity/problem and the change process. The more open the communication the better.

Books to recommend:

In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day: How to Survive and Thrive When Opportunity Roars?by Mark Batterson
Geeks and Geezers by Warren G. Bennis and Robert J. Thomas
John P. Kotter on What Leaders Really Do by John P. Kotter
Leading Change by John P. Kotter
Teaching the Elephant to Dance: The Manager’s Guide to Empowering Change by James A. Belasco