Waging War on Complacency


It’s time we begin waging war on complacency.

Complacency is a silent, sneaky malady quietly chipping away at an organization yet is hard to detect, identify, and eradicate. It disguises itself well and is not readily evident or self-diagnosed, making it an unpopular discovery. Complacency is a feeling of contentment or self-satisfaction coupled with an unawareness of danger or trouble looming around the corner.

It is an all-too-common occurrence in organizations that have achieved success, and knowing how to identify complacency is half the battle in overcoming it.

Malicious? Intentional? Laziness?

What’s vital to understand is complacency is not malicious, intentional, or has anything to do with laziness. It’s just where the brain goes when organizations and people have had success. And this includes traditional success, anecdotal success, and historical success that could have occurred a decade ago.

When people feel or say, “I’m okay just the way I am.” “We’ve been successful for some time now; we’re doing fine.” Or, “Change, what’s the point of that?” you’re usually knee-deep in complacency.

As a result, complacent organizations become inward-looking in their perspective. Insulated by their past successes, unaware of mounting attacks from their competition. This comes from customer-facing issues getting brushed off to the side and talk of how good we are quickly commanding the conversation.

The Nature of Complacency

But this is not an easy battle because complacent people do not view themselves as complacent. On the contrary, they see themselves behaving rationally and creatively, justifying their perspective.

Complacent people display themselves as rational, thoughtful, and prudent employees, which aren’t traits that would get anyone fired.

Complacency comes from past or perceived success. From people who never think they’re the ones being complacent. This challenge is a catch-22. Complacent employees are content with the status quo, proud that they helped build a system that can achieve great things.

The Dangers of Complacency

One of the dangers of complacency is that it’s a “feeling.” Harvard professor Dr. John Kotter notes, “It is usually less a matter of conscious, rational analysis than an unconscious emotion. This point is significant because people treat complacency as a state of mind that can be changed solely with the “cold, hard facts.”

Dr. Kotter states that complacency is a person’s ” feeling ” about their behavior and what they need to do or not do. This is important because 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.

How Complacent People See Themselves

Almost always, complacent people do not view themselves as complacent. They see themselves as behaving quite rationally. They can be aggravatingly creative in justifying their point of view. Dr. Kotter states, “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. They do not alertly look for new opportunities or hazards. Instead, they pay attention to what’s happening internally. Mostly they do what has worked for them in the past.”

Disruption, in the form of innovation or change, feels like a hazard to a complacent employee. They like what’s already in place, not realizing their competition moves at 70mph while they are at 40mph. Thus, complacency acts as a brake to growth and more significant success.

Complacency Buster

You’re waging war on complacency if you realize your company may have a complacency problem. If you do, don’t fret. Complacency doesn’t have to be permanent, but it will lower performance and make your businesses out-of-date over time if it continues.

The first way to overcome complacency is to recognize and acknowledge it. First in yourself and then in those you lead. Where there is awareness, there’s accountability, and accountability creates action. Change leadership is that action that begins to shift the focus from complacency to true urgency.

Employees who continually learn, adapt, and grow are participating in a change leadership environment. Consider giving employees time within their workday to learn and innovate. In addition, when new thoughts and ideas are presented, create an environment where views and opinions are valued and considered.

Complacency is a chameleon. A problem that can hide and disguise itself without detection. Waging war on complacency through true urgency is a mindset shift that can transform an organization from the inside out. If you sense complacency is plaguing your workplace, let’s eliminate it and propel you into a better future. Get in touch today to get started.