Organisational Change Management Volume 2

Signs of Complacency

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(NB a sense of urgency needs to overcome complacency)

Do you hear these comments in your organisation?

"...I'm doing my job just fine..."


"...Sure, we have big problems but they belong to somebody else..."


"...this is the way we have always done things here..."

. Too much past success and resting on "laurels" of this success

"...there are many, many people who have grown up in Sony who needed to be liberated somehow, not yelled at......I had to convey to them that they should develop a sense of urgency from being angry and being beaten and from recognising that complacency and denial are the enemies of innovation..."

Howard Stringer (new CEO, Sony) as quoted by Brent Schlender, 2005

Another example of complacency is provided by Kmart in USA

"... in the 1980s, in the U.S., Kmart talk about the market being saturated for discount department stores...... they had $20 billion in turnover and a little business called Wal-Mart had $1 billion. The rest is history..."

John Gillam as quoted by Sue Mitchell, 2010

. Lack of a visible crisis, eg the firm is not losing money, no one is threatening staff layoffs, raiders are not at the door

. Too many "sacred cows", ie out-moded beliefs, assumptions, practices, policies, systems or strategies, that are generally invisible and inhibit change and prevent responsiveness to new opportunities, eg reports that have been done for as long as people can remember but are no longer relevant. These sacred cows are

"...usually too woven into the fabric of an organisation's assumptions and practices to be noticed. Or they are so automatic as to be imperceptible..."

Robert Kriegel et al, 1996

. Complacency and "sacred cows" are linked. Sometimes complaints are ways of spotting the "sacred cows in disguise". Give permission and encouragement to staff to complain by asking them to complete sentences such as:

- this job would be great if I didn't have to......

- what a pain it is to do....

- no one reads why am I doing it?

- it's a waste of time to....

- it could be more productive, if I didn't have to...

- we could save a lot of money if we stopped....

. People prefer to stay in their zones of comfort. Some historical examples of preferring to stay in the zone of comfort revolve around lack of acceptance of new technologies and new forms of media:

"... Socrates' bugbear was the spread of the biggest-ever innovation in communications - writing. He feared that relying on written texts, rather than the oral tradition, would create forgetfulness in the learners' souls...... they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves. Cinema was denounced as evil pure 1910; comic books were said to send children into delinquency in 1954; rock'n'roll was accused of turning youth into devil worshipers in 1956; Hillary Clinton accused videogames of stealing the innocence of children in 2005..."

The Economist has quoted by AFR, 2010

. The visible signs of success are present, eg latest model cars, up-market offices, overseas trips, prestigious club memberships, etc

. Too much CYA (cover your arse)

. Too much consensus and non-concurrence, ie "kicking decisions" upstairs and matrix decision-making

. Low performance standards, ie too easy to meet objectives

. Not willing to take risks and be bold with ideas. Remember:

"...risk is the side salad of success..."

"...truth is the first dancer on the floor..."

"...ride the bicycle of imagination, not the Volvo of logic..."

Peter Biggs as quoted by Leon Gettler, 2008

. Too introspective, ie very self-focused and inward looking

. Staff focus on narrow functional goals and not broad business performance, ie marketing has its indices, manufacturing has a different set, etc.

. Internal measurement systems that focus on the wrong performance indices to portray a less-than-insightful picture

. Too many meetings and committees, ie

"...keep the minutes but lose the hours..."

Milton Berle as quoted by Robert Kriegel et al, 1996

"... Meetings are a lot like the hot air they produce: they'll expand or contract to fill the space available..."

and committees are like

"... dark alleys down which ideas are led and then strangled..."

Robert Kriegel et al, 1996

. Insufficient feedback from outside world, ie only hearing views that reinforce current views and not getting required feedback from external stakeholders: supplier, customer, shareholder, etc, especially dissatisfied stakeholders

. A culture that stifles honest discussions, ie "kills the messenger of bad news", and does not accommodate candour and confrontation. In fact, you need to have people around who are questioning and challenging everything, and need to have the capacity for self-criticism

. In denial mode, ie ability to deny that which we do not want to hear, especially if people are already busy or stressed

. Most organisations operate in a relatively lethargic state: this is like being stirred from your dreams by a strange noise in the night: one part of you struggles to focus on whether it's an intruder or the cat. But another part resists the possibility of bad news and struggles to go back to sleep. Similarly, people in organisations resist undertakings that would pull them from their familiar, comfortable world

. Senior managers promote the facade of

"...sure we have problems but look at all that we've accomplished..."

They emphasise past success and thus foster an entrenched, arrogant culture

. Instead of accepting the responsibility, staff expect senior managers (and not themselves) to meet market challenges. As a result, staff become passive and senior managers are perceived as problem-solvers. People need leadership to help maintain their focus on major questions, and disciplined attention is the currency of leadership

. Not realising that the timeframe for change is getting shorter, ie the rate of change grows exponentially, not incrementally

Never underestimate the strengths of the forces that reinforce complacency and that help maintain the status quo

According to Mike Cannon-Brooks (Co-CEO, Atlassian which was floated on USA stock exchange for around US 5b. in late 2015), as you grow, fear and paranoia are important. This is linked with the fear of becoming complacent and accepting the status quo; paranoia about not being creative and continually investigating ways of doing things differently. Some questions that can help with this:
- Are you taking enough risks?
- Are you failing enough?
- Do you have a good balance of risky and non-risky projects?
- Are you promoting enough new people, young, different people and encouraging them to have a go?
- Are you stuck in a traditionalist mindset like sales?
- Are you automating enough?
- How good it is your R &D?
- How good are your products when compared with your competitors?
- Do you understand your customers' needs and are you satisfying them?

(sources: John Kotter, 1996a&b; Robert Kriegel et al, 1996; Paul Smith, 2014a)


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