Complacency: It’s Everywhere…

Combat Complacency to Make Change Happen

“Bad business results are both a blessing and a curse. Losing money does catch people’s attention, but it gives less maneuvering room. With good business results, the opposite is true; convincing people of the need for change is much harder, but you have more resources to help make changes.” John Kotter, Harvard Business Review, 1995

You would think bad business results are enough to shake people out of complacency. But approximately 50 percent of companies fail to establish a sufficient sense of urgency to succeed in their transformation efforts, according to John Kotter, author of Leading Change and A Sense of Urgency.

People in organizations are entrenched in maintaining the status quo, even in the face of devastating news such as:

  • Shrinking margins
  • New competition
  • Decreasing market share
  • Flat earnings
  • Lack of revenue growth
  • Declining competitive position
  • Global economic recession

In spite of bad news, getting people to change and motivating them to participate in change initiatives are major problems. Starting a transformation program requires full-bore cooperation from many individuals. And without sustained motivation, people won’t stay with the program long enough to get results, so the effort goes nowhere.

Executives underestimate how hard it is to drive people out of their comfort zones, even when these zones lack security. Management also overestimates its success in creating a culture of urgency — the element that may, in fact, be the most important contribution to transformation efforts.

Research reveals that in situations where substantial changes were clearly needed, the following results were typical in 70 percent of companies:

1. Changes were not fully launched.
2. Change efforts failed.
3. Changes were achieved, but they were over budget, late and extremely frustrating.

In reality, only 10 percent of company change efforts achieve inspirational results. What distinguishes them from the appalling 70 percent?

Emotions play a strong role, Kotter asserts. When there’s a dramatic sense of urgency, people are motivated to do whatever they can to help implement changes. Where there’s complacency, leaders will be faced with resistance and a desire to maintain the status quo.


This is a brief synopsis of a 2000 & 1000-word article suitable for consultants’ newsletters for executives and leaders in organizations. It is available for purchase with full reprint rights, which means you may put your name on it and use it in your newsletters, blogs or other marketing materials. You may also modify it and add your personal experiences and perspectives.

The complete 2,000 word article includes these important concepts:

  • The Big Error
  • Complacency Is Rampant
  • False Urgency
  • Continuous Change
  • Communicate for Urgency
  • Beware of Barriers to Change


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