Organizational transformation: Handling the double-edged sword of urgency
Journal article, 2021
A central idea in organizational research and practice is that change efforts demand a sense of urgency. It is also commonly accepted that renewal beyond incremental improvements demand individuals and teams to have what earlier research has called a “promotion focus”—to think innovatively, see opportunities, and think long term. Urgency, however, leads to a “prevention focus,” with which teams and their members are more inclined to seek incremental improvements and error reduction. Hence, urgency seems to both support change and prevent it. Earlier research has not established the conditions under which urgency may lead to creative and productive outcomes. This paper aims to do so. In a study of seven change initiatives at a large media company undergoing a serious crisis, we found that urgency cues could be productively handled by managers and project team members when they addressed three core relationships: (a) the success-failure relationship, (b) the safety-accountability relationship, and (c) the operative-strategic relationship. We make three related theoretical propositions regarding the role of urgency in innovation-driven change and transformation.