It’s a mistake to assume organizational complacency is just about smugness and self-congratulation: it’s also chronic passivity — what one writer calls an absence of “premortems,” or failure to thoroughly assess new initiatives before they’re set in motion.
Ironically, the causes come from positives in the organization’s performance history:
• Management only wants positives. Sure, nobody likes chronic naysayers, but skeptics and devil’s advocates can provide analyses of potential pitfalls and difficulties. What happens? Aside from alienating otherwise engaged employees, it also means management grows accustomed to getting a chipper but incomplete report.
• “I’m the expert and you’re not.” Experts do tend to be right very often, but it’s an illusion to bet they’ll be right all the time. What happens? Specialist inflexibility or disdain for laypeople can be demoralizing for staff—and galling to customers who may also be laypeople.
• Unyielding belief in prior success. The more a routine succeeds, the more likely people are to assume the process is infallible. What happens? The organization grows rigidly attached to its more reliable solutions and becomes risk-averse (no innovation). There’s also an inability to learn and recover from costly mistakes.
• “We have all the best toys!” Technology, however sophisticated, is not infallible, and organizations often make the mistake of investing in IT protocols that make sense only to themselves and their IT guys. What happens? If it doesn’t make sense to your customers (or if it takes too much time to learn and adapt), they won’t rely on your technology even if self-service options are available 24/7.
• “My folks are right.” Some groups invite debate; others strive for unanimity, characterizing dissenters as flawed or badly informed. What happens? The tribalism of this can lead to faulty group rationalizations, presumptions of superiority, and miscasting of customers as ignorant outsiders.
The bad news is also the good news: much of the complacency problem lies in human nature, so there’s no known cure. But awareness helps reduce the problems created by complacency, and (I believe) the human mind can overcome any fallibility if the commitment to change is made.