By Raymond Ng, CSG Consultancy – Performance Consultant

I was conducting a simulation game in one of my training workshops last month when the results showed once again how most players failed to capture some early signs of trouble over the horizon.  The game simulated a crew sailing in the Pacific Ocean under a calm sky.  Each player was assigned a specific role.  Then troubles started at the most unexpected hour and many were caught unprepared.  The game ended with players analyzing what they should have done in their individual roles when sailing was smooth, which could have prevented the disastrous ending.  The game carried a clear message:  Complacency kills.


Classroom is a microcosm of the real world.  There is no lacking in examples of how once industry leaders were killed by complacency:  Kodak, Blockbuster …and the list goes on.   While no firm would like to jump on this bandwagon, most firms also refuse to admit they may have a complacency problem.  To a certain extent, those in denial may be justified, at least at the executive level, in that they have indeed been vigilant all along.  Yet complacency is not just something only top leaders but the entire organization needs to avoid.   And this means everyone, including middle managers and frontline staff.


Here is a quick acid test: How often does a middle manager tell you he spotted an opportunity to make a change, albeit small, that may result in a better product or saving cost?  How often does your team get together to find ways to bring more value to customers without being asked?  How often will a team member bring to your attention about a new technology or potential threat that just pops up?  How often do you challenge the key assumptions behind some time-proven processes in your organization?  If your answer to these questions are “not too often”, there is good reason for you to be apprehensive.


Sunrise, sunset.  Day in, day out.  Workday, payday, holiday.  Mayday…mayday…mayday!  In real-life as in the simulation game, danger leaps out from the most unexpected corner and time!


What can we do to fight complacency?  Should we cry wolf everyday?   Should we develop a paranoid corporate personality?  Not really.  Doing so will only lead to a temporary gush of corporate adrenalin and can be counter-productive in the long run.


Being vigilant collectively requires the development of a sustainable culture.  It implies encoding innovation and proactive risk management into the corporate DNA, to be transcribed into the practices of all levels of operation.  In this culture, innovation and risk management are competences required in all jobs and included into a performer’s KPI.  The company makes these competences an important consideration factor in its hiring, training and promotional decisions.   Ideas, big or small, will be acknowledged and rewarded.   People are encouraged to look out for opportunities of change in their work areas, in operation processes, in the products and services they are responsible for.  Every team carries out a scenario planning exercise once every few months, and recommends corresponding coping strategies.  Company communications broadcast stories on the excitements and successes created by ideas from Mr. and Ms. Frontline.


Developing such a culture requires everyone to be trained on how to innovate, how to cause a change, how to manage risk, and how to develop a proactive habit.  These are all learnable skills with tools and steps that, if adopted and put to use, can make a heaven of difference to your firm’s future.  Yet training alone cannot change a culture.  Training must be carried out in conjunction with corresponding alignment of values and efforts in other areas from recruitment to measurement to rewards.


To be vigilant yourself is not enough.  It is time to wake up the team to smell the roses while keeping a watchful eye on snakes and vultures.  It may sound like a huge undertaking, but the alternative is to vanish into oblivion.  Like in The Odyssey, Odysseus had to wake up himself and his men who got drugged up from eating lotus flowers: He did that one finger at a time.