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I've been writing a bit about complacency in business lately, including my last post from two weeks ago, Complacency or Innovation: You Decide.
As I'm working with clients through their transformations, I often revisit Kotter's 8-Step Process for Leading Change. I've written previously (at a high level) how that process applies to customer experience transformations.
The one step that resonates with me quite often is the first one, especially as it pertains to garnering executive commitment and, eventually, employee buy-in: creating a sense of urgency.
In his book, Leading Change, Kotter cites nine reasons for complacency, and it typically has nothing to do with inept or unintelligent leaders; instead, their focus is misplaced or misguided, they fall into a "not in my department" mentality, or they choose to believe that things will get better (seemingly on their own).
The first reason he cites is the lack of a burning platform or a major, visible crisis. What's the burning platform in your business? Customers are leaving. Employees are leaving. Costs are rising. Processes are out of whack. The culture is a mess. Bankruptcy. Impending hostile takeover.
Pick one. They are all bad. Absent all of them, you find yourself with the first source of complacency and inability to create and drive that sense of urgency that Kotter states is the first step in change management. In other words, if things aren't so bad, why should we change?
The second reason is too many visible resources. Perhaps a false sense of hope is a better name for this one. It means that there are a lot of lavish furnishings, perks, parties, trips, and events. Things must be positive because it looks like we're doing really well, i.e., we're spending a lot of money.
Low overall performance standards is the third reason. Performance standards are relative and can't be discussed in a vacuum. Your NPS may be up 3 points this year, but perhaps last year you were down 10 points from the previous year. And how does that compare to the rest of the industry?
The fourth reason revolves around organizational structures that focus employees on narrow functional goals instead of on broader business goals and outcomes. Departmental goals and metrics are fine, but they must all tie into the bigger picture, into the overall business goals.
The next one is a favorite one: internal measurement systems that focus on the wrong performance indexes. Again, they tend to focus on the department or on simplistic goals that don't necessarily tie into the big picture, giving the false sense that all is well.
Lack of sufficient performance feedback from external sources is the sixth reason. If you're not listening to customers, vendors, or shareholders and hearing from them how well you're performing, then you're missing a huge opportunity to uncover whether all really is well or not. Inside-out thinking rather than outside-in thinking rules the day. If the business is successful, leaders often get arrogant and think they don't need to listen to anyone outside of the organization. Until they need to.
I'd add here, too, that if you're not listening to your employees, empowering them, allowing them to innovate and find ways to do things better or to solve customer problems in a different way, complacency has also set in.
The seventh reason Kotter cites for complacency is a kill-the-messenger-of-bad-news, low-candor, low-confrontation culture. Any attempts to resolve reason #6 and bring in an outside perspective is viewed as treason.
Denial. Reason number eight is all about denial: human nature, with its capacity for denial, especially if people are already busy or stressed. We don't want to hear it. We don't hear it. So it must not exist. We're busy enough, so if we ignore the problem rather than doing something about it, we won't put more work on our plates. (And maybe it will just go away.) This is head-in-the-sand logic.
And, finally, reason number nine is one that I've written about before, as well: too much happy talk from senior management. The post I wrote is "Be Postive" is Not a Strategy. Your problems aren't gone just because everyone acts like they're gone.
I'll leave you with a thought from John Kotter:
Never underestimate the magnitude of the forces that reinforce complacency and that help maintain the status quo.
There are many forces... and they are strong.
It's so much easier to do nothing, sadly. And, oftentimes, fear of change rules the day.
But remember that what got you here won't get you there. The world is changing. Your customers are changing. Their needs are changing. The industry is evolving. New competitors (disruptors) come along all the time.
Executives must light that fire! Create that sense of urgency (not panic, urgency). It's time for your culture, your employee experience, and your customer experience to change!
Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well. -Theodore Roosevelt