Business Strategy – Complacency


“A feeling of contentment or self-satisfaction, especially when coupled with an unawareness of danger, trouble, or controversy”.

“An instance of contented self-satisfaction”.

How often have you heard one of your business clients utter the immortal words “Things were going so well – I didn’t see the danger until it was too late!”? While having a feeling of satisfaction in a job well done is a positive outcome, that same feeling can be the ruin of a good business when overshadowed by short sightedness, arrogance and over confidence. The one critical characteristic that separates okay businesses from great businesses is their desire (at all costs) to avoid complacency creeping in to their operations.

Complacency comes in many disguises:

  • Thinking you are so far ahead of your competitors you can “take it easy” for awhile
  • Considering you know what your clients need better than they do
  • Ignoring the importance of clients (and staff) who refer new business
  • Believing you have enough experience, knowledge and/or skills
  • Disregarding high staff/client turnover and considering it someone else’s problem
  • Assuming that “good enough” is going to be satisfactory to your clients

These are some of the signs of a business that is complacent about its success. Complacency can strike at any area in your business: your efficiency and productivity; the effectiveness of your procedures and systems; the quality of service you offer your clients. Some of the most common areas of complacency we see are in the leadership, knowledge and skills in a business. While complacency is defined as a “feeling”, unlike being happy or angry, the damage to your business can be profound. Let’s consider the impact of a complacent leader and complacent business:

  • “I know enough/I have sufficient skills to run this business” – people, businesses and markets change every day. If you are satisfied that you know enough, or have enough experience to effectively lead your business towards your vision, reconsider. Leaders who seek to continually build their knowledge and skills are far more effective in keeping abreast of important changes and making course corrections so benefit of their business. The day you stop learning is the day you stop leading
  • “We are far too good for our competitors” – that may be true today but what about tomorrow? If your business is complacent, it fails to understand that there is always going to be another business in the market seeking to overtake it and attract your clients
  • “Our service is good enough” – service can always be better. A Business that cast’s off complacency and adopt’s continuous improvement are those that have recognised how dangerous being satisfied with the “ways things are” can be
  • “Sure we have high staff turnover but that’s just because staff can’t hack the pace” – if you are complacent about staff turnover, you are failing to recognise that things are not all rosy in your business. Thinking it’s your staff’s problem is a certain recipe for eventual disaster.

Complacency is insidious and starts with something as simple as “oh – that’s good enough”. As the leader, you need to ensure that you continue to challenge the status quo to avoid complacency creeping in. Ask yourself: “How can we do better?”; “What ways can we improve our service?” and most importantly “What lessons did we learn when things went wrong?”

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