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Complacency: An Illness Hindering Corporate Success

Updated: Aug 21, 2019


Understanding the symptoms of Complacency and how to prevent the harmful consequences that follow.


Is complacency hurting business results? What are the symptoms of this damaging and contagious disease? Is your company suffering from this syndrome? 


The Realities of Complacency

The concerning reality is that many executives struggle to identify the symptoms when they first appear, and they only start taking some form of remediating action when it is too late and the whole organization—or a big part of it at least—is already infected. Contrary to popular belief, complacency can and is observed not only amongst staff members, but also in senior management and leadership teams.


What makes it so difficult to identify and diagnose is the fact that this corporate “illness” usually develops as a consequence of great success. We all know that business is—by definition—cyclical, and when business is slow everybody jumps in and rolls up their sleeves to make things better. This effort usually pays off and sometime thereafter things turn around and the business is thriving again.


When companies hire the right talent, place them correctly, and develop the right revenue and growth strategies, they usually find their way to the top. As many corporate leaders have said, “getting to the top is the easy part; staying up here is what is proving to be the greatest challenge of this journey…”


The complacency “bug” seems to flourish at the top, for many companies and their staff seem to get too comfortable amid the bonuses, commissions, and rewards that come with success, almost in an unconscious state of celebration.


We have been collaborating with and advising companies of all sizes (including Fortune 500 corporations) in several industries for many years, and invariably we have found that—for whatever reason—some companies appear to “give up” fighting once they make it to the top, engaging in an almost negligent behavior that only benefits their competitors coming from behind, which have spent their entire existence trying to figure out how to displace them from that privileged position.


Keep on Running

We see this happening in sports all the time. For example, when a tennis player loses the first set, it is not rare to see the score go the other way in the second set. Some call it psychology, others strategic planning, or plain luck. The truth is, very few elite athletes are capable of consistently staying at the top.


Think about it, marathon runners, sprinters, cyclists, race car drivers, basketball teams, they all have one thing in common: If they start losing, they are going to spend every remaining second of the competition trying to figure out a way to defeat the opponent. They will feed off their opponent’s success to build the necessary strength to turn the result of the battle around. When winning, athletes know they must keep on fighting; runners need to keep on running; cyclists need to keep on pedaling; tennis players need to keep on hitting every ball. Becoming complacent is simply not an option in these cases, unless you are a spectator of course.


The Law of Gravity

The law of gravity taught us that if we launch anything upwards, it will inevitably decelerate and fall to the ground, regardless of its size or initial energy we applied to the object. The same laws apply in business; if we stop applying “energy” to our product development, if we quit reinventing our marketing and growth strategies, if we assume 14% annual growth is normal and will continue to occur in autopilot, we are in for a rude awakening. Sooner or later Mr. Isaac Newton will remind us that perpetual movement doesn’t exist, and that the only way for companies to continue to thrive and stay on top is to apply constant force to its key propelling engines, faster and smarter than the competition.


The 7 Most Common Symptoms of Complacency

Seemingly, signs that the corporation is in the early stages of this problem are not obvious, but with enough attention and “outside the box” thinking, executives can identify behaviors and patterns indicating that we are resting on our laurels. Here are the 7 most common symptoms we have observed over the years:


1. Research & Development slows down or stops

If yours is a product company, remaining at the forefront of innovation is paramount. Keep track of product development year after year, and if you notice a decline you might be facing some of the early signs of corporate complacency.


2. Marketing budgets keep shrinking

Usually companies decide to cut back on marketing spending as a result of a decline in sales performance. This is perhaps one of the biggest contradictions in business there is, because what may be the strongest and most effective tool in overcoming a slowdown in order intake, becomes penalized—and often sacrificed—as if it were the root of the problem.


3. Skipping trade shows

Although part of the marketing budget, cutting down on trade show spending is typically the first place where “belt-tightening” begins. Marketing experts agree that when things are slow companies must increase marketing budgets, not only on trade shows, but also on social media campaigns, other aspects of digital marketing, and anything else that can generate leads.


4. Too much golf

Granted, salespeople should not be in the office; they should be out there meeting prospects and selling, but when they are nowhere to be found, perhaps you should start paying attention. Even top producers can get too comfortable, lowering their guard, and ultimately giving way to competitors.


5. Hit rate performance decreases

If your company has been winning orders at a certain rate and suddenly you start observing a decline in the number of opportunities won vs. lost, then perhaps you are in front of one of the most recognizable symptoms of complacency.


6. Shrinking pipeline

CRM is nowadays one of the toughest jobs for any sales leader, and one of the biggest misconceptions about this funnel and pipeline management tool is that its main purpose is to micro-monitor salespeople’s performance. And in a way it is, but the most fundamental role of this misunderstood—sometimes feared—software is to allow senior management to observe patterns and gain insight. If your company’s annual hit (conversion) rate is 20% based on a pipeline of ~250 opportunities with a funnel of about 1,000 leads, then CRM can keep track of any significant deviations from the norm, and a simple dashboard can highlight signs that the lead funnel is shrinking.


7. Lacking urgency

A struggling business fires up creativity and has the burning desire to change and produce success. Meetings are brief and few and far in between, colleagues walk at a faster pace in the hallways, and 8:00 to 5:00 is a thing of the past (or a dream for the future). Whenever that appetite for success and fear of [business] failure disappears, you have a clear sign that your organization is becoming complacent.


How Can Complacency Be Remedied?

Better yet, how can it be prevented in the first place? The good news is that the complacency syndrome can be solved. The bad news is that very few companies will reach consensus on the fact that they have a problem to begin with. Perhaps this is one of the biggest obstacles to solving this problem, because to agree one must stop pointing fingers and start admitting we are all guilty to some degree.


Avoiding falling victims to our own success is another key element to preventing complacency. It is always important to remain humble and remember the lessons of the law of gravity, always looking for creative ways to inject renewed energy into our company’s core engines.


Defining overarching goals every year is another way to revitalize an organization; and we are not talking about just raising revenue targets every year. Challenge your organization to find better ways of serving the industry you are in; come up with new products, with innovative ways of delivering value to customers, shareholders, employees, etc. Also critical to preventing the repercussions of complacency is to define creative avenues for protecting your brand, and expanding the reach of your company into untapped markets that may offer potential. Nothing gets an organization from a complacent space into a fired-up attitude than knowing the team is going places.


Most importantly, always remember that no one gets to win the race, for racing in business has no finish line.


To learn more about creative strategies to identify and remedy some of the complacency issues in your organization, please contact us at info@decoy-marketing.com or visit our website at www.decoy-marketing.com.




Decoy Marketing Consulting is an unconventional agency specializing in helping companies, ranging from ‘brick and mortar’ businesses to startups and larger organizations, achieve their full potential by leveraging our many years of combined experience in growing customer base, revenue intake, and market presence. We are dedicated to showing our clients not only how to increase lead-generation, but also how to improve sales. 


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In marketing, the "decoy effect" is a phenomenon where consumers tend to have a change in preference between two choices when presented with a third option that is asymmetrically dominated. This is also known as the "asymmetrical dominance effect".

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