The Complacency Trap

The Complacency Trap

When a goal is achieved in your team or organisation, what happens next?


It’s natural to want to recognise and celebrate achievements. Acknowledging a job well done is a vital part of the process of development.


But there’s a risk: complacency.


If we focus too much on what’s done, we often forget about what’s still to do. We look back, rather than forward to the next job, and the next goal.



From celebration to complacency


Picture the scene. You’re watching a football match, and, after several failed runs and a couple of saved shots, one team scores a goal. They’ve been plugging away, working for that goal for most of the game. They’re thrilled to see their work has paid off, and they celebrate with gusto.


The opposing team is back in position straight away, ready for the whistle and the restart, poised. The scoring team are still composing themselves when the whistle blows. They’re in position, but they’re not ready to play. The game kicks off, but their goal has robbed them of their hunger. They don’t feel they need to work hard. Inevitably, their opponents pounce on the opportunity and soon draw level.


If you’ve ever watched any team sport, from children’s to professional level, you’ll have seen this happen. When we work hard for something, we want to take time to celebrate it. But failing to refocus after that celebration quickly leads to complacency.


This isn’t something that happens only on the sports field. It happens in organisations. A team works hard to achieve a goal, only to falter soon after.


Complacency creeps in not because we’re lazy, but because we fail to notice the pace of change. It starts when we’re in a place comfort and pleasure. In that place, it’s easy to feel safe, and when we feel safe, we lose our ability to deal with change. We stop adapting and growing.


Complacency and mindset


Carol Dweck identified two mindsets: the fixed and growth mindsets. People with a growth mindset are successful, but they don’t just stop after one success. They know how to keep going and adapt what they do to continue being successful.


Speaking of the impact of praise on children, she says:


If parents want to give their children a gift, the best thing they can do is to teach their children to love challenges, be intrigued by mistakes, enjoy effort, and keep on learning. That way, their children don’t have to be slaves of praise. They will have a lifelong way to build and repair their own confidence.”


In a business context, the equivalent might be a team working towards and achieving a goal, and then seeing that goal as the end point. Rather than thinking ‘what’s the next challenge?’, they sit back.


Remember Blackberry? An innovative, market-leading product that quickly became a must-have. But they failed to see the challenge coming up behind them from Apple and Android. Rather than continuing to innovate, they fell behind, blindsided. 



How can we enjoy success and then keep on growing?


It’s not complacent to want to enjoy success. But success should never be seen as the end point or final goal. Success should be a springboard to more success.


Let’s take three possible scenarios.


Scenario 1:  You have a market leading product, just like Blackberry. You’re so caught up in your success with that product that you forget that others will inevitably be biting your heels. By the time you realise the strength of their challenge, they’ve overtaken you.


What could you do differently? Kept researching, developing and innovating, mindful of the fact that technology and markets can and will change.



Scenario 2: You’ve been delivering a successful, valuable service for some time. It’s difficult for you and your team to imagine being anything other than good at what you do. So far, so great. But now you’re coasting. You’re still doing what you do well, but you’ve stopped looking for opportunities to improve, because you don’t think you need to. You stagnate, and your service becomes poorer without you realising what’s happened.


What could you do differently? Kept challenging your business model, and made an active choice not to make assumptions about the quality of your service.



Scenario 3: You’ve achieved an important goal as an individual, and you’ve received considerable praise for it. Buoyed by this praise, you start to ignore useful feedback. As a result, you start to make mistakes that you never would have made before.  


What could you do differently? Remember that a single achievement is just that. It doesn’t mean that you’re immune to making mistakes, or that you have nothing left to learn.



There are numerous other possible similar scenarios. For all of them, your ability to deal with them depends on whether you can keep on innovating, growing and challenging yourself and others.


Have you experienced the complacency trap? We’d love to hear about what you did and saw.

Photo by Stefan Steinbauer on Unsplash

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