Urgency: A Blessing In Disguise

I had a moment in a meeting today that made me realize something.  After working in higher education for six years, I’ve completely lost my sense of urgency.  Many times I’d have an idea for a process improvement or addition and I’d think, “Great.  I’ll work on that for implementation this time next year.”  How many other industries would take that long to work on a project?

When I began my new position at a new institution in December, there were some things I wanted to change, and other things I was told to change.  Many of these things have yet to happen because I didn’t want to step on people’s toes or be seen as the new manager who has to do everything her way.  I’ve been in my current job seven months, and although some colleagues might disagree, I don’t think I’ve made many of the necessary changes I need to.

So, our campus has a new leader.  He’s been on campus for 15 days, and in the meeting today he mentioned a couple major changes that need to be made before school starts—in 6 1/2 weeks.  For a second, I was floored.  But the longer I thought about it, the more I began to think “why can’t conditions improve in 6 weeks?”  Think about something at your institution that isn’t working or a way students can be served better.  Assuming funding is not a major obstacle, could it be changed in 6 weeks or less with the involvement of the right people?

We’re moving into a strategic planning process, which I expect will be completed in one year or less.  When it is complete, the plan will have a companion operational plan with tasks, responsible parties, and deadlines.  I fully expect that some of those deadlines will be 6-8 weeks after the kickoff of the plan.  I’m sure some people are frightened by this, but I think I’m excited.  We need to be more responsive and timely when it comes to policy and procedure change in higher education.  Students are only with us (hopefully) for 4 years—on my campus it’s half that time.  If it takes 3-5 years to implement major change, today’s students will never benefit from it.

Do you feel there’s a sense of urgency among the staff/faculty in your department/institution?  How has that helped or hindered your organizational effectiveness?

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5 Comments on “Urgency: A Blessing In Disguise

  1. I have to say, I often felt in one of my previous position that the sense of urgency was TOO prevalent on our campus. We let something run for a month, then changed it by the end of the semester. Happened ALL. THE. TIME. I often wondered if it was because what we were doing wasn’t truly working, or if it would have worked if we would have waited longer.

    That being said, a healthy sense of urgency is good…

  2. I think it depends who is doing the work. Sure I can get a lot done in 6 1/2 weeks but how many hours a week am I working? What is being taken off my plate so I can get to your “urgent” request. You know from working with me that I’m a doer, but sometimes we have to say no to some urgent requests to set boundaries. If I think it’s best for the students, then I prioritize it as urgent.

  3. This is a timely and important post. Substantive change cannot take 3-4 years and still be wholly relevant to the issue that was being addressed. New initiatives can be researched, developed, funded, and implemented in 6 months or less, depending on the scale.

    Urgency and haphazardly often coincide in my worlds, and great care must be taken to keep them separate. People forget that “urgency” ≠ “immediately.” In putting something together quickly, one must ensure that quality is not sacrificed.

    Somewhere between immediately and whenever-we-get-to-it must lie a time frame that both benefits the intended students/staff AND allows for careful planning and understanding of the long term consequences (good or bad) of that which is to be implemented – that has a sense of “get this done-ness” to it.

    Thanks for discussing this, Liz. Good things to think about as the new school year approaches.

  4. Liz:
    I have taught a session at the EDUCAUSE Leadership Institute for the last two years titled “Leading Change”. This year, in the session that ended a week ago, I had the attendees read http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newPPM_82.htm in advance as I introduced the John Kotter 8-step process. There are also Kotter materials on YouTube. An early step is “Creating a Sense of Urgency”. We spent 45 minutes on a case study that the attendees found to be very valuable. Let me know if you would like to know more. Bruce.

  5. Great post! I was an Associate Director for 8 years — listening, learning, thinking. Now that I am a Director I frequently remind myself of those days of waiting. Waiting to try things, waiting to do new things. I will sometimes ask myself, “What if you don’t have this position tomorrow? Will you have tried the things you always wanted to try?” That question always motivates me to move forward.

    I appreciate everyone’s comments about change, and not changing for the sake of change. Those are good words to keep in mind.

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