The Most Dangerous Phrase in Business




“But, we’ve always done it like this.”


There’s an old saying that familiarity breeds complacency, and I believe this to be true regardless of the context. Complacency, while it might be acceptable in some parts of your life, simply doesn’t fit into the mold of a high-functioning, innovative and I’d argue profitable organisation in the 21st century… the competition is too fierce, and the stakes are too high to become complacent. Computer scientist John Fairclough once said that “complacency doesn’t make sense for a guy trying to redefine normal,” and if you replace the word ‘guy’ with the word ‘business’ or ‘organisation’, the phrase is a fitting portrayal of the need to constantly be moving ahead in the world of business to achieve true success. It’s often dubbed ‘the silent killer’ and can be easy to miss if your management team is filled with the ethos that business as usual is good enough.


I’ve mentioned a number of times now that I’m in a lucky position with Best Practice, as I have the opportunity to see how different organisations operate out in the bustling landscape of business. I’ve visited hundreds, if not thousands of organisations in Australia and around the world to see how and why they do what they do, and help to show them how a quality management system can help in the process of consistently shooting higher in the marketplace. On the other side of the equation, however, I’ve seen managers that are completely fine with the status-quo, and would sometimes get heated when a suggestion is made about a radically new way of doing things. “But, we’ve always done it like this,” is the most common reply from that manager or CEO, to which I like to point out the true cost of not trying new things, which ultimately boils down to somewhat of an existential problem when you consider the competition and accelerated speeds the business world moves.



“Complacency is an intrinsic flaw that prevents organisations from pushing beyond the status quo to achieve exceptional success.”



The most common signs of complacency taking over your organisation are:


-Stagnating sales, marketing and cash flow figures

- Toleration of mediocre performance

-A loss of competitive edge

-Competitors overtaking your market share

-Losing staff, and a difficulty in finding new A-players

-More complaints, leading you to lose customers



Change can be daunting, I’m well aware of that, but the purpose of this piece is to explain that the thing I fear the most is a lack of change- and it should be the same for any rational decision maker across any organisation or industry. Often in the conversations I’ve had with some more stuck-in-the-mud leaders, I’m curious to hear exactly what it is that is responsible for this fear of change. There’s a host of answers: the costs involved compounded by a dwindling lack of cash flow in the organisation, the trepidation of having a completely new way of doing things that could confuse staff, or slow down the speed they’re currently operating and a lack of resources and staff to invest and implement the change.



“There’s nothing more tragic than seeing an organisation held back from realising its full potential because of complacency in the leadership team.”



Ultimately, however, they’re fearful of the unknown… we all are. Fear of the unknown is one of our most basic instincts as humans, and it’s served us well when we were living in caves with predators lurking about. In the 21st century, however, we can’t be as primitive, and we need to recalibrate those instincts to the world of business with the idea of change being not only a good thing, an essential part of hitting our goals and achieving success; whatever that looks like.


If you’re a believer of the notion that “we’ve always done it like this” is the best way to go about your operations, there’s a host of benefits you’re missing out on, most notably, an absence of innovation inside your organisation that could lead to ruin one day if you’re out-competed by one of your rivals. You’re also at risk of losing the engagement of your staff, who are always looking for new learning or empowerment opportunities to get better at their jobs, and return the benefit to the organisation with a more productive work ethic.


Author Torben Rick puts it this way: “complacency is an intrinsic flaw that prevents organisations from pushing beyond the status quo to achieve exceptional success.” The author also notes that organisations should prepare for the worst possible disruption scenario, “even if they are experiencing a period of success.” This might seem cynical to some, but should be construed as realistic, instead. It comes down to the bell-curve that I’m sure you’ve seen before depicting adoption-rates of new technologies. You’ve got your innovators up first, early adopters following behind, the early and late majority make up the bulk of the percentages, and then laggards falling well behind. Ideally, you want your organisation to be in the innovator’s segment of the market, so you’re better positioned to use a technological advancement in whatever area of your organisation to improve the product or service you deliver, and to always improve upon the promises you’ve made to your customers. At the very least, you want your organisation to slide in under the early adopters or early majority to capitalise on this and negate the risk of a competitor massively disrupting your organisation's business model.


In my mind, there’s nothing more tragic than seeing an organisation held back from reaching its full potential because of complacency in the leadership team. While there may be some valid reasons to justify concern over changing up business as usual, would you agree that these concerns are far outweighed by the risks of not innovating your organisation?

Let me know in the comments section!


Thanks again for your time, I’ll see you in the next piece.


Kobi Simmat.

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