Alert: Is Your Organization Complacent?

Complacency Barrier Cartoon

Ask yourself, is your organization complacent?

Many years ago, I left my NFL playing days behind and entered what I thought would be corporate America’s organized, disciplined, team-first culture. But then, I was amazed to discover organizations seemed to be winging it for the most part. 

That’s right—winging it!  

Wasted time, energy, and talent. I found many lethargic, directionless, and chaotic, with no genuine urgency to win now.  

Mired in complacency, the tenor of many was “they were doing was just fine.” Lacking any resolve to take on the competition. I was stunned by this new awareness. Organizations must return to the fundamentals of winning by maximizing human performance. Developing, coaching, and growing their talent to win with deep-felt determination. 

Behaving with Complacency 

Is your organization complacent? It is a concept researched for decades by my friend, Konosuke Matsushita, Professor of Leadership, Emeritus Dr. John Kotter at the Harvard Business School, and the founder of Kotter International. Dr. Kotter calls complacency an all-too-common occurrence in organizations that have achieved success. However, knowing how to identify complacency is half the battle in overcoming it. 

What is Complacency?

The origins of complacency come from past success or historical success. A complacency definition reveals why. “Complacency is a feeling of contentment or self-satisfaction coupled with an unawareness of danger or trouble looming around the corner.” 

Two words are significant in the definition.

The first word is FEELINGComplacency is not only a thought. It’s very much a feeling. It is usually less a matter of conscious, rational analysis than unconscious emotion. This point is significant because people treat complacency as a state of mind that can be changed with the “cold, hard facts.” 

The second word is SELFComplacency is a feeling a person has about their behavior and what they need to do or not do. Knowing this is important. It is possible to see problems yet be astonishingly complacent. After all, you do not feel that the issues seen require changes in your actions. 

Almost always, complacent people do not view themselves as complacent. Dr. Kotter relates, “They see themselves as behaving quite rationally. They can be aggravatingly creative in justifying their point of view. These people can be hard to spot because they look rational, thoughtful, and prudent. Worse yet, they can see themselves as rational, thoughtful, and prudent.” 

Becoming Aware of Complacency

  • Complacency comes FROM: Past or perceived success.
  • How Complacent people THINK: They never think they’re complacent.
  • What Complacent people FEEL: Content with the status quo, often afraid of the personal consequences of change.
  • How Complacent people BEHAVE: They are identified by what they do (although words are revealing). People do not alertly look for new opportunities or hazards. Instead, they pay attention to what’s happening internally. They move at 30mph when 50mph is needed. Mostly they do what has worked for them in the past. 
  • WHO can be Complacent: You, me, our bosses, anybody! 

Some Important Questions to Ask

Dr. Kotter asks some helpful questions to get ahold of complacency. See if any of these strike a chord with you.

  • Do people have trouble scheduling meetings on important initiatives (“Because, well, my agenda is so full”)?
  • Do meetings on key issues end with no immediate decisions about what must happen (except scheduling another meeting)? 
  • Are discussions inwardly focused and not about markets, emerging technology, competitors, and the like?
  • Are specific assignments around critical issues regularly not completed on time and with sufficient quality?
  • Do people say, “We must act now!” but then don’t act?


So, is your organization complacent? Do you desire to move people from a position of complacency to commitment, which is a game-changer? Let’s talk. I am a leadership keynote speaker and workshop facilitator. My talks often center on identifying and removing complacency. Allowing organizations to move faster with less chaos to achieve success is what we excel at.

If you are interested in having me help your team move toward success, please get in touch today.