Four Ways to Avoid Complacency: NEVER Hit Pause on Your Career

Success breeds complacency. Complacency breeds failure. Only the paranoid survive.”—Andrew Grove, Hungarian-American businessman and engineer.

After finally accomplishing a tough task or achieving a long-term goal, it’s human nature to want to sit back and take a breather. “I deserve a little down time,” you might think. The Romans called it “resting on your laurels,” because back then a laurel-leaf crown was a common reward for winning an athletic or political contest. The problem? You might feel satisfied because you’ve gotten where you want to be or hit your numbers and rest on your laurels too long. When you’ve achieved a massive goal, I think it’s indeed cause for a celebration. However, getting through a long day of meetings isn’t cause for a mindless day the following.

When resting on your laurels turns into complacency, you have a real problem. (←Click to Tweet) Complacency can kill your business and your career. Indeed, it can be argued that complacency on the part of the Roman leadership ultimately resulted in the fall of the empire.

Springing into Action

No matter how successful you’re been in the past, your company leadership and the general public live by the tenet of the old Janet Jackson song: “What have you done for me lately?” While past accomplishments remain important, they don’t hold a candle to what you’re doing now. If you’re doing very little, you’ll eventually starve yourself out of a career. So let’s look at a few ways to avoid complacency altogether.

Side Note: This post is all about the dangers of not keeping yourself productive, but don’t mistake that with keeping yourself too busy. Sometimes doing something unproductive is worse than not doing it at all! I have a video on the subject you can check out here.

1. Once you achieve a goal, set a new one right away. Goal setting is one of the most important contributors to peak performance. It’s good to stop for a bit after stretching yourself to achieve a large goal to take a breather. Then decide which new goal to set. There’s always something new to do. As the old saying goes, “If there’s time enough to lean, there’s time enough to clean.” After a brief celebration and a few deep breaths, get back to cleaning up your organization’s problems and challenges.

2. Maintain a few “impossible” goals. Even if you achieve your tasks for the week and hit the mark for a particular goal, there’s no reason to stop working. Most of us have set long-term, even “impossible” goals for our jobs that we can chip away at during down-time, especially when waiting for the green light from your leadership on your next project. If you can finish even a few steps of that super-tough goal, you may set things up so that you (or someone in the future) can achieve it.

3. Be a Team Player. Just because you’re completed your task doesn’t mean everyone in your team or division has. With the permission of your supervisor, go back and help your colleagues catch up if you can. In the archaeological field, those who finish their assigned number of holes go back out in the field and help their slower colleagues get their work done. It speeds up the whole team, and can result in finishing projects under schedule and under budget—which may result in a nice addition to your budget at the right time.

4. Scare yourself a little. I know people who incentivize themselves through negative reinforcement. They may tell themselves, “If I don’t successfully complete my next project, I might get fired. If I get fired, I might not be able to find a good job in this economy. If I can’t find a good job, I won’t be able to pay the mortgage or the car note, the wife and the kids will leave me, and I’ll end up living in a cardboard box under an overpass!” Of course that’s taking it to ridiculous extremes, but it works for them. You can use similar techniques to get yourself in gear.

Scared Straight

Ideally, your direct manager will have the wisdom not to let you rest on your laurels, accept things as they are, or let your busyness lapse. However, that’s not always the case, so remember: it’s up to everyone to avoid complacency, just as it’s up to everyone to work on improving engagement and boosting performance. If you find it hard to get moving, put these tips into effect, and find a few more to motivate you. A complacent worker is soon a jobless worker.

© 2017 Laura Stack.

About Laura Stack, your next keynote speaker:

Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, CPAE is an award-winning keynote speaker, bestselling author, and noted authority on productivity and performance. Funny, engaging, and full of real life strategies that work, Laura will change mindsets and attitudes so your people can maximize productivity, strengthen performance, and get the job done right. Her presentations at corporate events, sales kick-off meetings, and association conferences help audiences improve output, increase speed in execution, and save time in the office. Stack has authored seven books, including her newest work, Doing the Right Things Right: How the Effective Executive Spends Time (Jan. 2016). To have Laura Stack speak at your next event, call 303-471-7401, email, or CONTACT US.

Here’s what others are saying:

“Laura Stack’s session with a group of our seasoned operations managers was eye-opening. We all learned new ways to be more productive with the tools we already have. I’ve never seen each of our seasoned, experienced operations managers so engaged in a session. Many of our senior and mid-level leaders were wowed by what they learned and have already begun using the new techniques with their teams.”
—Mary Pawlowski, Learning Design, Piedmont Natural Gas

“What I enjoyed most about your presentation was that it was not only engaging but also practical in application. I’ve read everything from Covey’s system to “Getting Things Done,” and you presented time management in a way that is the easiest I’ve seen to digest and apply. Thank you for helping our system today!”
—John-Reed McDonald, SVP, Field Operations, Pridestaff

“Laura is an incredible speaker who takes practical information to improve productivity and efficiency and makes it interesting and fun! She has a great sense of humor and completely engaged our corporate and sales team. Laura motivated everyone to take steps to make their lives more productive and efficient.
—Molly Johnson, Vice President Domestic Sales, Episciences, Inc.

“Ms. Laura Stack’s program received the highest scores in the 13-year history of the Institute for Management Studies (IMS) in Cleveland! From the 83 participants, the workshop received a perfect 7.0 for “Effectiveness of the Speaker” and 6.8 for “Value of the Content.” Managers especially valued learning about task management, how to minimize interruptions, organizing with Outlook, prioritizing, effectively saying ‘no,’ how to set boundaries, and recognizing self-imposed challenges to time management.”
—Don Gorning, Chair, Institute for Management Studies Cleveland