Of the numerous articles on why businesses fail, I have yet to read one that cites “complacency” as a contributing factor. However, the brutal truth is that far too many businesses become much too accepting of marginal or “OK” results compared to achieving stretch targets or world class results. In the long run such meager satisfaction, or complacency, leads to missed opportunities and misdiagnosed challenges – which in turn can lead the company right to the business grave yard. So, how do you avoid complacency in your business? Well, it’s not always easy, particularly if you’re enjoying any margin of success now. However, there are three areas of your business that are quite susceptible to complacency – people, plans, and processes – and here are a few tips that will help you avoid the insidious complacency disease.

People. Do you believe “the system is the solution,” or “the system is only as good as the people who execute it?” If you believe the latter, and I hope you do, then take time to assess everyone who works for and with you. You don’t need a sophisticated evaluation tool to do so. Just ask yourself one simple question – “Is this person and relationship meeting my expectations?” If the answer is yes, that’s great. If the answer is no, you have some work to do. Identify what needs to change, by when, and what the consequences are for not changing. Make your expectations known and crystal clear to the individuals and ask them for their help in achieving your company goals. If they don’t get on the bus with you quickly, you need to find someone else who will. Running a business is all about working with people of course, but it’s a lot easier with the right people.

Plans. Effective planning; strategic and operational, can make the difference between a good company and a great one. For great companies, planning is not a static event. Rather, it’s a dynamic process of creative thinking, challenging assumptions, testing, executing, follow up and continuous adjustment. If you want to avoid complacency in your company, you need to commit generous amounts of time to continuous planning efforts. As a business leader, you should be constantly asking and answering these questions:

1 – Who are we?

2 – Where are we now?

3 – Where do we want to be?

4 – How will we get there?

5 – Who does what?

6 – How are we doing?

Ask these questions of yourself, your employees and your partners at least once a quarter. Explain the question thoroughly, listen to responses objectively, and take action accordingly. You’ll discover more than enough issues and opportunities to prevent you from becoming complacent.

Processes. To succeed in a competitive market and to make your life easier as well, your business processes must be optimized. That is, they must be both efficient and effective. Accepting anything less will always lead to waste, a waste of your time, your money, or both. To avoid such waste, make sure you’re not complacent about your major business processes. Once a year, jot down the essential processes that produce results for your business, e.g. sales, marketing, operations, finance, etc., typically about a half dozen or so key processes. Then, sketch out a high-level flow chart of each critical step in the process, step back, and ask a few questions:

1 – Are you satisfied with the efficiency and effectiveness of each step?

2 – Is the right person doing this process or this step?

3 – Can I improve this process by ten percent or better?

4 – Am I applying available technology wisely to this process?

You’ll be surprised at the complacency that can creep into your key processes over time; but you’ll also be happy with the improvements you can make by asking these simple questions.

Unfortunately, most companies don’t realize they’ve become complacent until it’s too late. However, applying these tips now and regularly will keep you from becoming like most companies.