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Implementing change in complacency-filled organizations

Complacency that follows successful navigation through a highly competitive crisis, represents one of the biggest threats to an organization’s existence. Dwelling on past achievements, ignoring the competition, and not recognizing the need for major change, can lead to many missed opportunities, disengaged and unhappy employees and poor customer service. Not only that – it can severely endanger the organization’s being or – worse – completely ruin it. In complacency-filled organizations, change initiatives are usually forgotten before they are even presented. How to avoid or overcome this silent company killer and how to raise the sense of urgency in a complacency-filled organization to implement change?

Complacency – every transformation’s enemy

In today’s business world, business agility is key to success. Organizations need to be able to quickly respond to changing market conditions, transform and adapt. But transformation is not something that comes naturally. It requires a lot of commitment and hard work. Making this step is not easy for a ‘healthy’ organization, let alone one that is resting on its laurels. In Leading Change, John Kotter discusses eight stages for guiding organizational transformation. The first step is to establish a sense of urgency – which can only be done if there is no complacency.

Overcoming complacency

According to Kotter, complacency can only be tackled if the organization recognizes the problem and identifies the reason for its existence. Therefore, to increase urgency, Kotter suggests removing sources of complacency or minimize their impact. Nine possible reasons for complacency existence and basic means of raising a sense of urgency are listed in the table.

Transformation requires real leaders – and change agents

Transformation can never happen without courage and confidence. That is why cautious managers, who have been awarded for keeping ‘status quo’ will never be able to introduce change. Therefore, to successfully implement change and achieve a transformation, organization needs to employ real leaders, who can set the vision, show the way, and remove impediments, and practitioners, managers, and change agents who know how to implement specific process changes and are able to make fast, intelligent decisions. At the same time, change agents need to be experts in their field and the organization needs to own enough credibility to be taken seriously.

Within SAFe® (Scaled Agile Framework for Enterprises), the role of change agents belongs to Certified SAFe® Program Consultants (SPCs). You can learn more about the role of change agents and SPCs in the article ‘Become a successful change agent’.

Create a sense of urgency

As stated before, creating a sense of urgency is the most important step when fighting complacency. One approach to overcome complacency has been to create a false sense of urgency. While it actually creates fear, anxiety, and wanted response, it often results in responding to unimportant threats, instead of real ones, such as disruptive innovations to the market that create replacement products, new markets, new price structures, and a realignment of the market. Additionally, false sense of urgency often creates unproductive distracting noise and high stress levels that results in waste of time, energy, and brainpower.

Therefore, it is important for an organization to be able to feel the real sense of urgency. This motivates people to relentlessly seek ways to enhance their performance, add value to the organization, focus on improvement and better future. To increase the real sense of urgency, an organization should focus on activities that provide value and meaning, create a strategy that is exceptionally externally oriented, aimed at winning and relentless improvement. Organization should look for opportunities in crisis, respect it, behave with urgency and passion, and avoid acting content, anxious or angry. Organizations should demonstrate their own sense of urgency in meetings and other interactions and rigorously deal with anyone who is trying to sabotage change, is determined to keep group complacency or create false sense of urgency that has proven to be nothing but destructive.