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Five Tips for Warding Off Organizational Complacency

By Kristen Leverone on November 12, 2013

Status quo thinking may be the refuge of the risk averse, but actually, the results are just the opposite.  As Bob Iger, Chairman and Chief Executive of Disney, puts it, “The riskiest thing we can do is just maintain the status quo.”  Organizations, as well as individuals, can fall into the sleepy comfort of complacency through a number of innovation-numbing mind sets:  fear of decision making, reluctance to accept change, lack of vision, inadequate market analysis, or a simple preference for the current state. 

In a recent Corner Office column in The New York Times, Brian O’Kelley, chief executive of AppNexus, expressed his pet peeve: “People who say, ‘This is how it’s done.’ I hate that. Tell me why people do it that way. … It’s status quo thinking. Just because we do it this way doesn’t mean it’s right. That’s where complacency comes from.”  Organizations must encourage innovation to remain relevant.  And leaders should be the standard bearers.  Even ground-breaking organizations are susceptible − Apple is currently experiencing some backlash from the public perception that it’s not responding quickly to changing market demands.

So what can leaders do to ward off complacency? Here are five tips:

  1. Communicate the mission.  Focus employees on the mission of the organization and their role in achieving corporate goals.
  2. Recognize innovators. Provide incentives for creative problem solving and fresh ideas (processes, products, services, etc.) and address the fear of failure that stifles innovation. 
  3. Encourage the exchange of ideas. Provide internal networking opportunities for employees and foster a culture where team members can freely express differing points of view and question the status quo.
  4. Provide variety in tasks. Routine and repetitive work can become boring and lead to complacency.  Identify what employees like to do and what they do well and then offer a variety of stretch assignments that capitalize on their strengths.
  5. Make learning a priority.  A stagnant brain is the wellspring of complacency.  Offer a comprehensive array of learning opportunities for all employees that will help them prepare for lateral or vertical moves within the organization.
     
    When complacency sets in, opportunities are missed, customer service diminishes, quality drops and the company’s performance suffers.  Always challenge the status quo. Ask questions such as, “What happens when market demands shift?  How will we respond if the business starts to lose customers?  Why are we doing it this way?”  Too many organizations adopt an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” attitude – with serious long-term consequences.  Nothing ever stays the same so no matter how good it seems today, it’ll change.  Are you ready?

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