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beat complacency

As anyone who has started a business can tell you, there’s a certain urgency in those early days. You’re organizing your company, you’re marketing your product or service, you’re doing whatever it takes to get your business up and running and be successful. The same thing happens in established organizations as people create and deliver new products and services. It’s often an intense and heady time, and when a project is complete or a product successfully launched, it is natural to want to sit back, take a breather, and bask a little in that success.

I don’t know that we recognized it for the danger that it was to our success at the time, but we have been guilty of falling into a state of complacency. “We’ve finally made it,” we thought. “We can slow down now and settle into a routine of fulfilling orders. We’ve beaten the competition.”

At the time, we didn’t realize the consequences of this thinking. Complacency leads to a desire to maintain the status quo and/or to let things run on autopilot. You start ignoring the marketplace with its changes, opportunities, and challenges. Throw in the recession that really hit businesses hard around 2008, and we were lucky to stay afloat.

There’s a great book by John P. Kotter that addresses this issue, titled A Sense of Urgency. In the book, he outlines one strategy and four tactics that every organization should implement to deal with the inevitability of change in an effective way. The tactics offer a way to stay on high alert with your business, without creating a false sense of urgency, meaning people are moving to act, but often with the wrong intentions (I need to protect my job!) or characterized by frenetic activity that doesn’t really address the real issues, but causes a lot of frustration, anger, and angst.

First, the strategy: Aim for the heart before the head. What does this mean? You can present PowerPoints, tables, any number of data to show why your organization needs to get moving, but no one is really swayed by facts and figures. Touch people’s heart and they will act with urgency. Think about it. When you are solicited by a crowdfunding campaign, is it the health diagnosis that inspires you to make a donation, or is it the story of the heartache or challenges that a family is now dealing with? It’s the old cliche about pulling at the heartstrings. It’s knowing your WHY.

Now the four tactics:
  1. Bring the outside in – Always be looking at what is going on in the marketplace and with your competitors. Talk to your customers, your employees, your salespeople. Make sure you know what is going on in your industry, what appears on the horizon, and what other factors in the outside world could affect your business.
  2. Behave with urgency every day – Behaving with urgency means purging the activities from your calendar that are low priority, distracting to your mission, and not moving your goals forward. It means moving with speed, which includes making meetings effective. Meetings are some of the biggest time wasters when done incorrectly. Meetings should have a definite purpose. Someone needs to be in charge of staying on task. When a meeting ends, it should be clear who is responsible for what actions and when tasks are expected to be completed by. Also look out for how much time you spend on the internet and social media. You might start out with good intentions, like posting your blog post to your company Facebook page, but don’t get distracted by then checking your personal page while you’re there and losing precious time that you could be using to market your business.
  3. Find opportunity in crises – Look for the opportunities for when things seem to be going wrong. Re-imagine problems for their potential to put your organization on a more profitable path. Give people a chance to think creatively about a problem rather than react with panic. Be honest in describing the impact of the crisis on your business, but speak with an urgent calmness. Sounds contradictory, but if you think about it, it’s a way to inspire pro-activity rather than negative reactions.
  4. Deal with NoNos – You’ve always got your Eeyores who are convinced that change is not needed nor will change work. They may present a counterargument of facts, or sabotage any change efforts by spreading doubt and anxiety among the troops. This is different from the skeptic, who will support your cause with additional information and explanation. There are three things you can do with your NoNos: Distract them with other projects, identify them publicly and allow social pressure from others to immobilize them (yes, even calling them out as a No-No), or in some cases, let them go. Don’t spend precious time trying to convert a No-No and don’t ignore your No-Nos.
It may not seem like it from day to day, but complacency and its accompanying procrastination can run your business into the ground. Operating with a sense of urgency can keep your company at the top of its industry and ahead of your competitors in a world where change is happening faster and faster every day.