Complacency can be the single most dangerous threat to any business. Like runaway tree roots, complacency takes hold of an organization's culture, and the worst part is, in many companies, leadership is either slow to recognize it or does nothing to stop it.
When complacency takes hold of an organization, the following outcomes can become very real:
- You lose your competitive edge.
- You begin to regularly tolerate mediocre performance.
- Your competition gets stronger and faster than you, gaining market share without you even realizing, until it is too late.
- You not only lose your better performers, because they are not being challenged, but you are also unable to attract new talent.
- You lose customers, money and eventually your business.
When the leadership of an organization becomes complacent, they are probably also falling victim to legacy thinking.
Their complacency causes them to be reluctant to challenge the status quo because they are “comfortable" with where they are. The result is that they are positioning themselves and their organization for a future disaster.
They mistakenly think that their current status quo will continue into the future “as is." Legacy thinking shows itself in phrases like “that's the way we always do it," “it worked fine last time" or my favorite, “if it ain't broke, don't fix it."
So what's the solution to fight off the threat of complacency and avoid legacy thinking? The solution starts with you, the leader, and your views and habits toward your own development. Why? Because the simple fact is, when you, the leader, get better, your team and your business will follow.
Do you take your skills for granted? Do you actively and regularly challenge your knowledge and skill levels and look for ways to improve them? Or, do you think you can wing it with your own career and the future of your business? What are you doing to enhance your leadership skills? How do you relate to your team? Do they buy in to the expectations you set? Do you challenge your team to also look for opportunities to question the status quo?
Companies that encourage “thinking" at all levels have the best chance to avoid the dangerous effects of complacency within their organization. Here are seven simple steps to get you started in the right direction:
1. Be clear on your long-term vision (no more than two years out) and your short-term goals needed to make that vision a reality.
Clarity will help you set the right expectations and guide your team to take the right actions. Working on the right things keeps complacency outside of the gates.
2. Have a specific plan for each day.
Focus on the most important tasks first—the ones that are directly related to your goals and vision.
3. Give yourself specific time each week—no more than one hour—to think strategically and evaluate where you are and if you are heading in the right direction.
In this “meeting with yourself," question your own status quo. Be brutally honest in your assessment of how things are getting done.
4. Challenge your team to think.
Don't be afraid to solicit their feedback. Ask questions about what they are doing. Do they know why they do it? And do they have any suggestions on how to do it better?
5. Encourage and reward innovation.
Your teams usually have the best solutions to improve productivity, service and results. A good friend once told me a story of a company that gave out an award for “the best worst idea" just to encourage their team to think about better ways to do things.
6. Create a formal process to learn from mistakes.
By learning what you could have done differently, you challenge your team to think and avoid legacy thinking.
7. Finally, invest time and money to improve your skills and knowledge.
And that includes the skills and knowledge of your team. Self-improvement is one of the best antidotes to fight off complacency.
The best leaders encourage their teams to think about how to challenge the status quo and look for ways to do better every day. It is extremely rare that a company that thinks and acts on a timely basis—in part by using the above steps—will ever fall victim to complacency.