Overcoming Complacency

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the 8 obstacles to change, and it’s possible I left many of you discouraged, overwhelmed, and ready to give in. Then I didn’t post for a month. That was cruel of me, and I’m sorry.

What happened? Well…things changed. Our team was reorganized, new projects and tasks were added to already full plates, and blogging slipped down the priority list.

Hold on just a minute. Didn’t I say in my last post that change is hard and the process is full of obstacles? How could things have changed so suddenly?

Situations arose that gave us a valuable tool in the change toolkit and allowed us to leap over that debilitating first obstacle – complacency – in a hurry. But more on what that was in a moment.

Where does complacency come from?

Before we talk about beating complacency, it’s important to look at where it comes from. In Leading Change, Kotter outlines 9 sources of complacency.

  1. Absence of a major, visible crisis
  2. Visible signs of success (fancy board rooms, expensive cars in the parking lot, first-class flights)
  3. Low performance standards
  4. Focus on departmental silos rather than overall organizational success
  5. Unambitious, non-specific goals to ensure that everyone meets them
  6. Lack of performance feedback
  7. Discouragement of people who deliver bad news, lack of confrontation
  8. Tendency to deny things we don’t want to hear
  9. Happy talk from management

Does any of this sound familiar? Then you might be stuck in the complacency rut.

It that’s the case, and the people around you think everything’s hunky-dory even though you can see the writing on the wall, then all of your panicking and frantic yelling won’t make a bit of difference, and nothing will change.

How can you overcome complacency?


Urgency. Lots of it. That was the tool we had that allowed us to make rapid changes.

Kotter suggests that for change to take place, “a majority of employees, perhaps 75 percent of management overall, and virtually all of the top executives need to believe that considerable change is absolutely essential.”

You need to make people see that change is necessary. And that the time for change is now. Kotter gives us 9 ways to do it.

  1. Create a crisis, allow errors to blow up, expose weaknesses
  2. Get rid of visible signs of success
  3. Raise standards so high that they can’t be reached through business as usual
  4. Hold everyone accountable for overall success, rather than departmental goals
  5. Share specific performance data with all employees
  6. Force people to regularly meet with unhappy customers
  7. Hire consultants and outside sources to provide honest feedback
  8. Discuss weaknesses and competitive threats in open, wide-reaching forums
  9. Emphasize opportunities, rewards for taking advantage of those opportunities, and factors leading to missed opportunities

I admit, some of these ideas sound a bit risky. Others sound a lot risky. But we can’t make changes if we aren’t willing to take risks.

Are you willing to take the risk?

We’re all guilty of complacency at times. It’s easy and safe to accept routines and status quos. New processes and strategies take thought, and planning, and work. Implementing them also takes a lot of courage. Setting out on a new path is a great risk wrought with danger. What if the new way doesn’t work? What if it turns out the old way was better?

What if I fail?

We’re terrified of failure.  Maybe it’s time to get over it.

I’ve failed before and I’ll fail again. But I’ve realized that I’ll survive. So will you.

I know that wasn’t the best pep talk. Maybe one more cliché to drive the point home: with great risk comes great reward.

We can’t start getting better until someone is willing to put him or herself out there and take a risk. Will that someone be you? Cool. Check back for the next post.