“Complacency is the last hurdle standing between any team and its potential greatness.”
Pat Riley, former NBA Coach and Player
You’ve done the important legwork to protect your business against undue risk. You’ve conducted a threat assessment, reviewed security measures, fortified your IT infrastructure, put controls into place, built a business continuity plan, and trained your people. So now what?
Though you’ve taken great measures to prevent and/or mitigate losses, if people fail to consistently follow through with the day-in day-out responsibilities required to keep risks in check, it is all in jeopardy.
Complacency – that sense of quiet pleasure or security, usually accompanied by a lack of awareness of potential dangers or deficiencies – is the enemy of excellence and can be the single largest threat to any business.
Complacency can lead to massive failure. Consider the now infamous example of the Deepwater Horizon explosion which killed 11 people, injured another 126, and caused an oil spill that took three months to get under control. The catastrophe was “the result of poor risk management, last-minute changes to plans, failure to observe and respond to critical indicators, inadequate well control response, and insufficient emergency bridge response training,” according to a federal report. In a nutshell, complacency.
Once complacency takes root in an organization, it’s hard to change course. In this blog, we’ll explore four common causes of complacency and show you how to steer clear of them.
1. Foregoing a “Moment of Insight”
Insights, or those “eureka moments,” abound in our personal lives, in society, and in the workplace. We experience a sudden understanding of something that was previously unknown or incomprehensible. The answer to a puzzle abruptly becomes obvious. A series of seemingly unrelated incidents suddenly reveals a clear pattern.
In the context of risk mitigation these “aha moments” happen all the time. Businesses connect the dots between the events happening around them (e.g., wide area disasters, data hacking incidents) and make the adjustments they need to make in their own operations to stay protected (e.g., creation of disaster recovery plans, beefed up cybersecurity).
So why, then, do some people fail to act despite a clear moment of insight? It often comes down to a lack of leadership or sense of urgency. Often, they are focused on what’s in front of them – the objectives, processes, and budgets before them – rather than presenting a compelling vision for the company. This is especially true during times of change, the thinking being, “The crisis isn’t imminent, and we already have so much on our plates.”
Brent Gleeson, the author of TakingPoint, says, “Most organizations that continue to succeed and innovate have a culture poised for positive change and taking a risk. They don’t wait for the ship to spring a leak. They proactively and constantly set aggressive goals. They sometimes even intentionally develop a sense of urgency.”
2. Maintaining a Sense of Overconfidence
Another reason why organizations stay in a state of complacency is due to an excessive sense of self-confidence, which can express itself in different ways.
Sometimes overconfidence stems from a false sense of security or well-being. “We’ve never had anything bad happen before, and the probability is so small that we can let our guards down.”
Whether it’s a statistical calculation, the illusion of preparedness, or outright arrogance, people operating with this mindset are inviting problems.
Someone leaves the door propped open while they run an errand, crisis communication plans become outdated, or passwords aren’t decommissioned when an employee leaves the company. Teams might even take their cue from management and begin letting practices and policies slide.
3. Having a False Sense of Reality
It’s human nature to be lulled into complacency, especially if you’ve lived the same basic existence in the same company for years on end. You come to believe you’ve lived pretty much every scenario and can reliably predict the outcome of most situations. When we believe we know the answers, our creativity and ability to proactively plan for potential threats become stagnant.
The key in these situations is key to have a learning mindset, to be curious, ask questions and think more deeply. Jeffrey Simmons, President and CEO of Elanco, says it’s helpful to “find people who make you feel uncomfortable, who help you learn a new skill or broaden your perspective.”
4. The Tendency to Make Excuses
Similar to having a false sense of reality, complacency thrives with people and in environments where excuses are made and accepted. Some of the common excuses that lead to inaction, for example are, the failure to conduct quarterly safety trainings, the absence of consistent background checks, or the failure to conduct due diligence with a new business partner.
- The likelihood of a disruptive event (e.g., tornado, data breach, active shooter, embezzlement) happening is so low it’s not worth our time to protect against it.
- We’ve done business with this company for a dozen years, so we don’t need to investigate them as a part of this merger.
- We’ve been very successful so far, so we must be doing something right.
- Our team has very little turnover, so even if something were to occur, most of us were trained at one time on what to do in the event of an emergency or major incident.
- We’re already doing all we can to protect our business from risk, we don’t have the bandwidth to do more.
How to Avoid Complacency
The military has a mantra that “complacency kills.” In fact, signs with this message are often posted at their bases and outposts. They know that complacency in combat may mean the difference between life and death.
In the business world, companies that fail to continuously evolve face obsolescence, at worst, and significant financial or reputational loss, at best.
Here are seven strategies recommended by American Express for warding off business complacency:
- Be clear on your long-term vision (no more than two years out) and your short-term goals needed to make that vision a reality.
- Have a specific plan for each day.
- Give yourself specific time each week—no more than one hour—to think strategically and evaluate where you are and if you are heading in the right direction.
- Challenge your team to think.
- Encourage and reward innovation.
- Create a formal process to learn from mistakes.
- Invest time and money to improve your skills and knowledge.
Lowers & Associates works with a wide range of industries, helping organizations with a full range of solutions, from assessments to loss mitigation to recovery. Contact us for a consultation to understand what unknown threats you might be facing and how to address them, so that you don’t become a victim of the four culprits of complacency.