Almost everyone faces or feels complacent at some time. And the longer an organization has worked to improve processes, and the more success they have achieved, the more likely this obstacle will become a problem. Leaders must acknowledge, face and overcome the comfort zone success creates and the complacency that comes with it.
The Five Faces of Complacency
• Champions. Champions are looking at the process and the competition and singing “We are the Champions!” The prevailing attitude often is that once you reach number one, there is no more need for growth. Even a cursory historical view of champions in sports shows the fallacy of this mindset. More directly, let`s look at industry.Of the twelve stocks that composed the original Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) only General Electric remains – and many of the remaining eleven stocks aren’t in existence in any form. Clearly employees and leaders of those other eleven companies would have had the “right” to consider themselves Champions, and yet look at their fate. Of the current 30 stocks composing the DJIA, 8 have been added (which means 8 have been removed!) within the last ten years.The message is clear. If the complacency of being the Champion invades your thinking, not only are you unlikely to continue to engage earnestly in process improvement and optimization, but your supremacy is in peril.
• Resigned. Some people think this is “as good as it gets.” Even when people look at how far they have come and see the progress that has been made they still believe that they have gotten all the improvement that is possible. They become resigned to the fact and a certain “what`s the use” attitude prevails – even when shown data that supports room for growth.This face of complacency can show up in two forms: “we’ve done all we can do” or “we’ll never be as good as [insert the name of company or competitor here]”. Either way, this feeling keeps people from engaging in process improvement activities because, in their mind, there’s no point since the effort won`t produce the desired results.
• Comfortable. You know what it feels like to be comfortable – whether on a beach chair or in your job. When you are comfortable, you don’t really want anything to change. Life is good. Profits are fine. Results continue to be comfortable.
When you feel this way, your comfort zone becomes your only beacon. After all, why would you want to improve/change things, when you are so comfortable?
• Tired. Maybe the climb to the current level of performance has been long and arduous. Maybe the process improvement has cost jobs or created other changes that weren`t seen as completely positive. How willing are you to hop into a car for a several hundred mile drive after just driving 400 miles? When great physical, mental and emotional energy has been exerted to get to where you are, you naturally can be tired. And when you are tired, your energy and appetite for more exertion is sapped.Teams and individuals can get tired, and when leaders push for the next rung of improvement too quickly, fatigue can be a problem. Unfortunately, fatigue also can be misdiagnosed as the final face of complacency.
• Lazy. It is easier to stay the course, not change the process, and let things work the way they are. Even when there is an occasional bobble or problem, it is typically viewed as easier to stay the course than to work to improve the process. When people are seeing the world this way, it will be hard to generate energy or action towards continued process improvement/optimization.An important side note here: Just because people are feeling lazy or not wanting to exert effort at this particular time on this particular issue, doesn’t make them “lazy” all of the time. Be careful with this label, both verbally and in your internal judgment.
These are distinct mindsets and can be diagnosed separately, but remember that one person could be afflicted by more than one of them. And, one of these mindsets may be the prevalent concern for your team or organization, it is not likely that everyone within the group is feeling the same way. Rather, it`s very likely that you’ll be facing all of them within the same team or organization at the same time.Your challenge as a leader is to identify the form(s) of complacency you are dealing with and to create a plan for overcoming each. Let`s explore the tools you can use to do just that.
Tools For Overcoming Complacency
Fortunately the tools for dealing with the five faces of complacency are clear and well defined.
Recognition. You must first come to understand the sources of the resistance people have to continued process improvement. Resistance can be passive or active, and/or spoken or silent. Using the five faces described above can give you language and a way to understand the sources of resistance you are seeing. Use your skills of questioning, listening and observation to attempt to determine people’s reasons for concern or disengagement.
Acknowledgement. While you may not see the world they way others do (i.e. they may feel they are champions, but you see things differently), their perception is their reality. So, trying to convince people of a new perspective by simply telling them they are wrong, or see things incorrectly, isn`t likely to create your intended persuasive result. Rather, let them know you understand their perspective, even if you don’t agree with it. Acknowledge their position as a jumping off point for further discussion.
Conversation. You will not be successful in dealing with or overcoming the various forms of complacency by creating a masterful PowerPoint presentation. Even the best PowerPoint slides imply one-way communication. To understand and overcome the resistance of complacency, you must create dialogue. Listen to people`s points of view and come to new agreements based on a mutual understanding of each perspective.
Shared Vision. Perhaps the most powerful way to overcome complacency is to keep a clear picture of a desired future in front of everyone. Regardless if the previous vision of success has been reached, when you keep people focused on a vision of a future state that benefits them, they will overcome their own fatigue, arrogance, resignation and more. Notice that the idea here is a shared vision; simply stating the vision from your (or the company`s or the stockholder’s) perspective isn’t enough.
Why. People who are tired, lazy, too comfortable or feeling like champions tend to focus on the how`s and the what`s. They focus on what actions have to be taken next and they typically don’t want to take those actions for a variety of reasons (depending on the mindset). In order to overcome a how and what focus, you must place people’s view on the why. When you can help people create a compelling why, they will be ready to move forward, regardless of the how`s and what`s. Remember that the most compelling why`s will be focused on the people themselves and the greater good. Consider questions like, how will this process improvement improve the lives of our Customers or impact the communities we live in?
Costs of Change. People see inherent risks in continuing to change and improve. When you can openly discuss their concerns and risks, you can help people overcome those fears and/or eliminate the risks. Understand their costs of change and you can then help change their perspective.As you think about the faces of complacency and consider the tools available to you, you will quickly see what combination of tools will work best for the individual or group with whom you’re working. Remember, though, that it always begins with recognition, acknowledgement and conversation.
The Final Goal
If your goal is to continue to improve and to continue to chase the elusive perfection, then you must keep people free of the complacency that will naturally set in. This challenge ultimately can be stated that you want people to be content (pleased with their progress to date, engaged and enjoying their work), but not satisfied (recognizing that there is always another rung on the ladder of improvement and success).When you can keep this balanced view of content, but not satisfied (first for yourself and then for those you lead), you will have successfully met and tamed the five faces of complacency and provided a major leap forward in your quest for process optimization.Potential Pointer: Complacency is the hidden enemy of improvement. For individuals and organizations to overcome this enemy, we must be content with our present conditions, but not satisfied with where we are.
By: Kevin Eikenberry