Push vs. Pull-based Urgency

I was talking to my friend Josh a couple weeks ago about the speed at which teams move and how best managers can create a sense of urgency. We pretty quickly agreed that there are two types of urgency for a team: push-based and pull-based.

I felt like this is an important delineation, and wanted to summarize our conversation a little, just by giving some examples.

  • Team:
    • Push-based: You hire people who will what is asked of them, and nothing more.
    • Pull-based: You hire people who are conscientious and self-motivated, and if they aren’t being pushed, they will push themselves and everyone around them.
  • Goals:
    • Push-based: The team has “soul-less” goals like “get X done by Y” or “increase metric Y by Z”.
    • Pull-based: The team clearly understands the value of what they are building and are excited about making it real.
  • Road-blocks:
    • Push-based: Team members constantly lose momentum because they run into obstacles that are beyond their control.
    • Pull-based: The “path is paved”, so-to-speak. Team members might face obstacles, but they are either empowered to clear those obstacles or have access to executives that can clear the obstacles for them.
  • Deadlines:
    • Push-based: Arbitrary deadlines like “our exec wants this done by Friday”.
    • Pull-based: Self-imposed deadlines like “this should take 2 weeks, and we will hold ourselves accountable to that”.

We actually discussed deadlines a little bit, and as Josh always does he broke out a few dimensions:

  • Deadlines can be artificial or real. An artificial deadline is one in which there will be no repercussions if the deadline is missed, and a real one has repercussions.
  • Deadlines can be superimposed or self-imposed. A team can decide a deadline for itself, or someone (typically more senior) can decide a deadline for them.
  • Deadlines can be evident or arbitrary. An evident deadline might be “if we don’t build our product by November, we’ll miss out on the holiday season orders.”

So a deadline that is real, superimposed, and arbitrary, could be something like “If you don’t accomplish this by end-of-month, you will be fired.”

Someone once told me that managers push and leaders pull. Plenty of people, companies, and teams have gotten results with very “push-based” urgencies, but if you ask someone which type of urgency they prefer on their team, they’ll likely say “pull-based”. Which is an interesting point to ponder.

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