John Kotter has written a foundational book on the subject of leading organizational change titled simply, “Leading Change.” One of the primary obstacles leaders must overcome is the sense of complacency that sees little need to change.
Here’s Kotter’s thoughts on how to overcome such complacency.
ESTABLISHING A SENSE OF URGENCY
“With urgency low, it’s difficult to put together a group with enough power and credibility to guide the effort or to convince key individuals to spend the time necessary to create and communicate a change vision. People will find a thousand ingenious ways to withhold cooperation from a process that they sincerely think is unnecessary or wrongheaded…In this complacency-filled organization, change initiatives are dead on arrival.
SOURCES OF COMPLACENCY
“Nine reasons help explain this sort of complacency.
(1) No highly visible crisis existed.
(2) That meeting was taking place in a room that screamed “success.” The subliminal message was clear; we are rich, we are winners, we must be doing something right. So relax. Have lunch.
(3) The standards against which these managers measured themselves were far from high.
(4) The organizational structure focused most people’s attention on narrow functional goals instead of broad business performance.
(5) The various internal planning and control systems were rigged to make it easy for everyone to meet their functional goals.
(6) Whatever performance feedback people received came almost entirely from these faulty internal systems. Data from external stakeholders rarely went to anyone.
(7) When enterprising young employees went out of their way to collect external performance feedback, they were often treated like lepers.
(8) Complacency was supported by the very human tendency to deny that which we do not want to hear. Most of us, most of the time, think we have enough challenges to keep us busy. We are not looking for more work. So when evidence of a big problem appears, if we can get away with ignoring the information, we often will.
(9) Those who were relatively unaffected by complacency sources 1-8 and thus concerned about the firm’s future were often lulled back into a false sense of security by senior management’s “happy talk”.
“Big egos and arrogant cultures reinforce the nine sources of complacency. Never underestimate the magnitude of the forces that reinforce complacency and that help maintain the status quo.”
Are you seeking to lead a change process that is finding it difficult to get traction or overcome inertia?