Every leader, especially if they’re passionate about their work, wants their employees to put in full effort. If you’ve given your heart and soul to a project or company you care about, it can be hard to understand why others are dragging their feet. Studies show that a whopping 70 percent of employees feel actively disengaged at work, and the number continues to climb year after year. Luckily, there are absolutely ways to get your workforce moving again without dampening their spirits.
What is a sense of urgency at work?
A team that has a sense of urgency works efficiently and understands their collective end goal. The team is united with a common purpose that pushes everyone to do their best and most productive work. Each person knows where they fit in the larger picture.
This might be the ideal for every organization, but actually getting there is the tricky part. It’s important to strike a balance between cultivating a sense of urgency at work, while still prioritizing company culture and employee mental health. Here, industry experts weigh in on achieving peak productivity while avoiding burnout..
How to foster a sense of urgency at work
1. Promote a culture of innovation
Before you worry about creating a sense of urgency in your company, focus on creating an environment that values innovation. Part of developing a productive team is making employees feel excited to come to work, and nobody will feel excited if the work environment is stale and repetitive. If employees feel like they have room to contribute ideas (or even challenge old methods), they will be more likely to feel invested in the work being done.
Leadership coach and founder of The Mind Designer Nastassia C. S. believes an inclusion-based approach that challenges groupthink is key to promoting a culture of urgency. “A team culture that breeds a sense of urgency is one that is always wary of relying on its strengths, ensuring a culture of dissent, and challenging what’s working even when everyone in the room seems to agree,” C.S. says. “Because when a team is complacent and reliant on its successes, it stops prioritizing innovation, sticking to old ways of thinking that get in the way of growth.”
Read more:6 Times When You’re Your Most Creative
2. Clarify roles and responsibilities
A jack of all trades is often a master of none. The truth is, most people can’t be productive while wearing many hats, so ensure every team member is working in their area of expertise. Clarify employee roles and expectations, and try to assign projects that play to individuals’ strengths. If expectations aren’t clear or the office atmosphere feels scattered, team members might be working hard without much fruit to show from their labor.
“People want to know what they are working towards and how they are a valued part of that process, so by creating clarity around what each person owns, what their role is within a larger goal, and why they are the ones responsible for that role, it allows people to feel an emotional pull towards whatever project they are working on,” C. S. says.
3. Stop micromanaging
Nobody likes to feel like their boss is breathing down their neck. After providing clear direction, take a step back. Letting your employees work independently and innovate is an essential part of a productive work environment.
Tanya Dalton, a business coach for women entrepreneurs and founder of inkWELL Press Productivity Co., finds that giving employees space to spearhead their own projects is a good move: “Not only are my employees more productive, but once they feel that ownership around something, they are more passionate and thorough in their work, and can see the overall shared vision we are trying to create as a company.”
This isn’t to say that interpersonal relationships aren’t important. Getting to know your employees as individuals can be a helpful part of knowing how to best support them and will likely encourage them to become more invested in their work. Striking the right balance between freedom and support is key. If you usually check in on employees twice daily, make that once every two days. Although it might be scary to let go of the reins, you’ll be able to check many more boxes on your own to-do list when you aren’t focusing on others’ projects. Take the time that you would have spent checking in and focus on an innovative project of your own. You’ll be surprised how the office culture changes when you lead by example.
4. Lead by example
This leads us to the fourth point...you can’t foster a sense of urgency and innovation in your company if you aren’t living those values out yourself. Research from Gallup shows that managers supervised by highly engaged executives are 39 percent more likely to be engaged than those supervised by executives with below-average engagement. Especially in smaller companies, employees pay attention to the attitudes of higher-ups.
Go in every day with a plan and a positive attitude. It’s challenging to lead with confidence and direction if you don’t know exactly where you are going yourself, so now is not the time to wing it. If you aren’t organized, get organized, but also remember to block time into your day to harness your own creative energy. When employees see your diligence, they’ll likely rise to the occasion themselves.
5. Change how you’re working
Traditional work environments don’t work for every company. Maybe you have a team of highly intelligent but hyperactive people. If you have room in your budget, why not invest in treadmill desks? If your employees are productive at home and prefer to log in from there, work with them to make that happen. A safe and inclusive workspace should be the baseline standard, but once those needs are met, going above and beyond can bolster your team’s productivity.
Dalton believes one of the best things she did to increase her team’s productivity was announce that they were no longer working on Fridays in the summer. Eventually, after realizing that her team was able to get a full week’s worth of work done in four days, she extended the policy year-round. “By giving my employees that added day back in their week to be with their families and loved ones, a sense of urgency was created in our workplace,” Dalton says. “By giving my team the gift of Fridays off we came together as a closer, more cohesive team unit.”
6. Nurture an environment with “good stress”
Contrary to popular belief, being stressed isn’t always a bad thing. In fact, there are two very different kinds of stress, and feeling them will lead to very different outcomes. Eustress (which literally translates to “good stress”) is the kind of stress we feel when we give an important presentation, ride a roller coaster, or start a new job. We feel anxiety, but we ultimately know that we are in a safe environment. Distress, the negative counterpart, is not productive and can be psychologically damaging. In order to create a sense of urgency at work, it’s important to make sure stress being felt is positive, not damaging to employees.
How do we create an environment where “good stress” is prioritized? By doing many of the things listed above, like providing clear expectations, prioritizing meaningful connections with employees, encouraging creativity, and providing resources needed to create innovative work.
Leadership expert Gianna Biscontini tells InHerSight, “To be productive, we require a calm, alert state with clear outcomes, training-to-fluency, and the uninterrupted time to produce those results. If employees are tied to a purpose that is meaningful to them and serves their values, this can elevate productivity and protect against burnout.”
Read more:3 Practical Ways to Relieve Stress
Armed with these six tips and a little help from the experts, as a leader you’ll be set to change your work environment and foster a sense of urgency as a team. However, even if you aren’t the head of the company or the manager of a team, you can impact your company’s culture. Check out this article on how to develop your own leadership philosophy and make changes, even if you aren’t the boss.
Read more: How to Say "Sorry My Email Is Late!"
About our sources
Nastassia C. S. is an inclusive leadership coach and the founder of The Mind Designer. She is also the author of “The Perfect Launch Plan: How to get out of your own way so you can finally start a business (even while building a family).” With almost 10 years of experience and training, she is an expert in leadership development and diversity, equity, and inclusion strategies. Through The Mind Designer, she works with leaders, founders, and CEOs of growing companies to create better and more inclusive workplace environments. She is a Certified Professional Coach (CPC) through iPEC Coaching.
Tanya Dalton is a productivity and business coach, best-selling author and the CEO and founder of inkWELL Press Productivity Co. Her book, “The Joy of Missing Out,” was named one of the Top 10 Business Books of 2019 by Fortune Magazine and her podcast “The Intentional Advantage” is ranked among the top 50 in the self-improvement category on iTunes. She specializes in growth strategy for women leaders in the corporate and entrepreneurial sectors. She holds a bachelor’s degree in English language and literature from Southern Methodist University.
Gianna Biscontini is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) and leadership expert. With nearly 20 years of experience in the field of human behavior, she has worked with a variety of clients ranging from Navy SEALS to business executives to children with special needs. She holds a B.A in psychology from Salisbury University and a M.A in education and human development from The George Washington University. She holds post-graduate certifications in organizational behavior management and Applied Behavior Analysis, as well as a certificate in social entrepreneurship from Stanford University.