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How to Fight Complacency

“Of all the things a leader should fear, complacency heads the list.”

–        Leadership guru John C. Maxwell

Evan Hackel

Is your company complacent? Of course, every company has areas of complacency, even very successful companies. Microsoft, one of the most successful companies in the world and clearly innovative, was suffering from complacency until Apple came out with new and disruptive products and technologies. That explains why the IPad led to the creation of Microsoft’s SurfacePro tablet. And Apple itself was complacent when it let Spotify become the dominant player in streaming music, and then had to play catch up.

Even those highly innovated companies fell into the complacency trap for a time, but seem to have learned their lessons.

But let’s talk about your company. Have you let complacency take root, maybe even allowed it to become a dominant force? If you have, it will stifle creativity, innovation, competitiveness, motivation and profits. It will act as a silent poison that can kill you.

But there are proven ways to flight complacency! Let’s learn how.

Actively Gather and Develop New Ideas

Complacency sets in when companies do not actively encourage and develop new ideas from key employees throughout the ranks. After employees’ best ideas have not been heard, noticed or rewarded, it doesn’t take long before they begin to keep their best ideas to themselves – and, why shouldn’t they?

For this reason, it is important to create appropriate forums like company-wide brainstorming sessions where new ideas are openly gathered, explored, and selected for development. Even if your employees work in far-flung locations, you can still set up virtual meetings, or convene councils of employees from your different locations, and solicit their best ideas there.

Create Tasks Forces to Monitor Competitors’ New Ideas, Marketing Initiatives and More

If you are passively assuming that your employees are watching the competition anyway because it is “part of their jobs,” chances are you are inviting complacency to take hold. But if you create task forces to head up those activities and have them report back to the entire company, you are making new ideas part of your company culture.

And remember that great ideas can be found in industries and sectors that are not the same as yours. Spread your search wide and gather information actively.

Cultivate a Culture of Curiosity in Your Company

If you are a company leader or high-ranked executive, make it part of your job to become hungry for new technologies, emerging markets, and everything that is taking part in your sector. You cannot delegate curiosity and expect people to identify what is important and to tell you about it. Instead, take the lead as a learner and share your findings throughout the organization.

When employees see that top leaders are diligent learners, they follow suit after they see that curiosity is central to the way you do business.

Create a Culture of Positive Dissent

As a top company executive, resist the temptation to surround yourself with “yes people” who reflexively agree with everything you say. Instead, encourage people to challenge your ideas and suggest better ones.

Another way to think about this is to fight the kind of complacent thinking that says, “Do what I say because I have a higher rank than you do.” Growth comes when you have the courage to expect that other people can, and often will, have ideas and solutions that are better than yours.

Take the Stigma Out of Failure

John C. Maxwell and other leadership experts have written a lot recently about the virtue of “failing forward,” and with good reason. Unless you develop the capacity to dare greatly and learn positive lessons from mistakes, you and your organization can never grow. Yet at the same time, an effective leader’s job is to achieve success, never to create failure as a learning tool.

When is a risk worth taking? Part of that decision can be made by weighing the results of a worst-case scenario (“what is the worst thing that can happen if we fail at this?”) against a best-case scenario (“what big wins and big lessons could be hidden in this endeavor?”) When the potential benefits of doing something far outweigh the possible losses, it is a risk worth considering.

Encourage Autonomy

Another way to fight complacency is to fight the tendency to micromanage. Instead, allow key employees to take full charge of important aspects of their work. They shouldn’t have to ask you or their supervisors for permission to do what they want to do . . . they should simply know they can do it. When they see that they have opportunities to take charge and make personal contributions to the company vision, mission and direction, new levels of motivation will take hold in your company.

One simple litmus test for this problem is to ask employees to identify problems and questions that they cannot act on without asking their managers for permission. When you look at those questions, you will probably determine that you can tell employees, “If it makes sense to you . . . if it’s common sense . . . then go ahead and do it without asking.”

In summary . . .

Complacency and “business as usual” are the enemies of motivation, progress and profits. Part of any leader’s job is not only to get people to do what is expected of them, but to discover their own new opportunities to build your organization’s success.



Stepping up to Greatness with Michael Strasner

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