‘Don’t Panic’ reads the cover of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in large, friendly letters. Not only is this the most helpful or intelligible thing anyone has said to Arthur Dent all day during the worst day of his life, it is useful advice in general.
Operating in a state of panic is never a good idea. However a sense of urgency is vital and the line between the two can become blurred – especially from an external perspective. There are times when you need to display a contagious sense of urgency to those around you without giving the impression that you are panicky or unintentionally inspiring panic.
Making the leap from a large organisation to working for yourself imbues most people with an essential sense of urgency. Firstly you (hopefully) have a real passion for what you do. Secondly, you realise that you and you alone are responsible for getting things done. Thirdly you are aware that, by leaving behind the ponderous bureaucracy of a large institution, speed and efficiency are now key advantages.
These factors combine to generate positive urgency. However, when you’re successful enough to begin to grow your business and begin recruiting new staff you can discover that not everyone shares your sense of urgency. Let’s not forget that to be in a situation where your business is expanding is a good thing. The need to instil a sense of urgency is one of the normal ‘growing pains’ people experience.
To inspire this urgency in others it’s important to set an example. However, you can’t expect your positive dynamism to simply ‘rub off’ on those around you. You need to actively model your behaviour. Not just performing with pace and efficiency, but making sure those around you understand what you are doing and why. It is a failure to do this which can often lead to others misconstruing your urgency for panic.
For example, when dealing with your own team, simply providing someone with a swift response might go unnoticed. Promising a swift response and then delivering it clearly communicates your method and ethos. Keep messages and meetings brief, be succinct and concise in conversation and ensure that you or your inactions are never someone else’s excuse for not completing their work.
Ensuring your purpose is clear demonstrates that you are not reacting to situations in a state of panic but working urgently to a well-defined plan. Declaring and sharing your intentions, decisions and targets makes examples of your own behaviour and providing goals and outcomes for your team can help this behaviour to spread.
Whilst it’s essential to have a long-term plan and a vision for the future, short term targets and objectives for the here and now can help prevent inertia from taking hold. You need to be sure your business is moving in the right direction towards a clearly defined goal, but if that goal is months or years away it can be hard to generate urgency today.
When it comes to igniting that spark of motivation and urgency in your team, you need to be mindful of the individuals it is comprised of. Individual targets need to be tailored to individual people, capitalising on their behaviours and preferences. Emotional intelligence is a key asset when encouraging and enthusing people, as is flexibility. People are complicated and you may have to adapt and change tactics in order to incentivise everyone.
It can be hard work, but building a workforce who share your passion, drive and urgency is a valuable endeavour. Keep working at it and don’t panic.