Chief Anti-Complacency Officer

Last week I was having an e-mail discussion with a colleague, Dan Wallace, who brought to my attention a job title that he really liked, “Chief Anti-Complacency Officer”. My imagination took over, although I will not relate here just what I saw in my mind; you get the picture I am sure. The title reminded Dan that “positive disruption” is a good thing. Being a bulldog myself, positive disruption is second nature to me.

Dan also pointed out that positive disruption is a scary if necessary thing. We can both think of any number of cases where the status quo needed to be shaken up a bit in order to improve what was happening at a company, and yet things did not change, and people were often concerned about being seen as disruptive. Why is that so? Well, here are a couple of possible reasons why…

First of all, human nature resists change. I pointed out in an earlier Blog that I moved last year. Now, nearly a year later, my car is still trying to drive to my old address. We are much more comfortable with the familiar, and naturally want to keep going on as they are. People become entrenched in routine, and often see no farther than an oft repeated business process. This can be a danger to a company when things change; being stuck in routine means you may miss the changes may be happening in your market and among your competitors.

One way to guard against routine is to be agile (see the Blog “Is Your Company Truly Agile?”). An agile company has routine processes in place, but more importantly, they have processes specifically designed to analyze results that are different than what is expected. Once the difference is analyzed, the agile company has processes in place to respond quickly to change. The real key, however, is recognizing change by responding rather than ignoring.

Dan and I agreed that another area of complacency that we have both experienced is when managers and executives are not willing to listen to employees about what is really happening. This can be a particular problem in large companies where structures have been developed that impede communication across boundaries and between levels. Companies that excel are able to break down barriers to communication and encourage employees to “speak up”, literally.

Beyond structural barriers to communications, there are times when the problem is an executive who does not like to hear bad news. We have all seen situations where the reaction of an executive to bad news is to shoot the messenger! In reality, some of the people that have such a tendency may not even realize it themselves.

If you are an executive or manager, you may want to ask yourself a question or two about how well you listen to those around you. For example, are you always the last one to know about a problem, often finding out when it is too late? If so, have you ever asked yourself why that is? Now, it could be that you need to train the people around you to communicate better. On the other hand, your reactions to the news that you hear may truly inhibit others to tell you first. One of the questions I ask an executive for whom I am consulting is: do you want to know fast, or do you want to know last? Being open to frank communications is one way to hear things fast.

My thanks go to Dan Wallace for the inspiration for this week’s post and some very good input. Those who would like to know more about Dan check out his website: Launchpad Partners

4 thoughts on “Chief Anti-Complacency Officer

  1. Jennifer Jelinek

    One of the most intriguing executives I’ve worked with went to extremes to ensure that he got alternative opinions from his team in a rather unusual way. He specifically hired his VP to disagree with him. They had an agreement to disagree on most points. It created tension in the workplace but it also generated a great deal of conversation and frequently led to the best and most creative ideas for the company. By creating a “safe” environment for disagreement, frequently other upper management also felt comfortable providing competing ideas. On the whole, the senior management team was very effective and didn’t fall into the “idea reaffirmation” pit.

  2. Great post, Kevin (although I’m biased!).

    Credit for the job title of Anti-Complacency Officer goes to my friend Coley Perry ( Check him out!

    I like to ask business leaders, “What are the things you absolutely know are true about your market – so true that they are beyond question? Now, what would be the impact on you if any one of those turned out not to be true?”

    A study on “growth stalls” was reported earlier this year in the Harvard Business Review. The bottom line: essentially every company will hit a stall at some point in its history – and most never recover. According to the study’s authors, the universal culprit is the failure to ask and answer some form of those questions. Clinging to obsolete beliefs and assumptions turns out to be the universal Achilles heel.

    We’ve call this phenomenon “Corporate Kryptonite.” I’ve long believed that it is universal, and recent neurological research supports that. It’s a by-product of two core brain functions – finding patterns in information (i.e., constructing a world-view from what we observe) and filtering information based on whether or not it conforms to our beliefs. So it’s not something you can simply avoid (i.e., I have my Corporate Kryptonite, too). The Growth Stall study reinforces this view.

    In 1972, the cartoon possum Pogo said, “We have met the enemy and he is us!” That’s about right. It’s possible to break free of obsolete beliefs and assumptions but almost always requires the involvement of someone who is from outside your usual orbit.

  3. Hi Kevin,

    Great post and Dan thanks for the props on the title. I came up with it because it seemed simple, and well… not complacent. Everyone uses the same old titles on business cards. As a sales & marketing guy I wanted the title to actually mean something and convey value. I think if you ask anybody I work with it is a fitting title. It also goes well with my post on the “Loose Cannon”.

    Good Luck to everyone in 2010!

    Anti-Complacency Officer

  4. oops! Here is the Loose Cannon Post…

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