You have likely heard the term “resting on one’s laurels” as a way to describe those who have enjoyed success in the past but then use that as a reason, whether consciously or otherwise, to relax and not seek additional triumphs. Certainly, there is nothing wrong with savoring and celebrating a success. But history is littered with examples of early success that has been demotivational and not repeated later.
Speaking of history, the term is one that is inspired by the ancient world. I recall that the term had Roman origin, but discovered that while the Romans had a tradition of rewarding successful generals with laurel wreaths, they actually borrowed the idea from the Greeks. Once those empires collapsed (some say because they got decadent in their success), the term came about to describe their declines.
Success can be a fabulous motivator. But, there are examples of when moderate success is an impediment to an organization in achieving a higher echelon of success or reaching the “next level.” I would go as far to say that moderate success is worse than moderate failure (obviously outright failure is a bad thing, but I refer to the type of failure that sets a company back, but doesn’t sink it).
The Model and Symptoms
The model of an organization that is experiencing a case of moderate success is one that, regardless of age, is doing “good” or “ok.” Their employees’ jobs are secure and they have a good pipeline of business; but they are not exactly a paragon of industry success.
Some symptoms are that the organization and its employees accept that moderate success and become complacent. Sometimes the organization has come to accept (or ignore) a low level of employee satisfaction. There is a certain “why fix it if it ain’t really broke” attitude which acts as a barrier to improvement.
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If there are issues, why wouldn’t the organization want to address them? Perhaps they are not looking to grow or innovate; I have seen this with some family businesses that are satisfied with their level of success. Others can be concerned about the disruption caused by trying to make a positive change.
Whatever, the reason, moderate success can have negative effects. It prevents an organization from moving to the next level, whether that be in business, customer service or culture. If the company happens to be forced to the next level (for example, by market forces or growth in existing customer sales), real pain can surface through unresolved or broken processes, poor service, and employee morale issues.
Further, it instills a sense of complacency in the management and staff of the company.
How to Combat the Complacency
So how does an organization combat the negative effects of moderate success?
Seek process improvement. Don’t just save the concept for when something goes horribly wrong; rather, memorialize it by establishing a regular cadence for employees to embrace. This is one of the things I love about Scrum. It establishes a regular “retrospective” to seek out the good and the bad of the process, has the team identify the highest priority issues and then puts a plan in place to address.
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Use human nature to your advantage. We embrace checkpoints and new beginnings in our lives (birthdays, New Year’s). Do the same for your company. Use the New Year, the anniversary of the founding or even Arbor Day to establish improvements. The psychological line in the sand will encourage employees to embrace well thought out changes.
Leaders need to show that they are willing to change and improve. Share a great book you have read with the team and how it has changed your behavior. Use details gathered in an employee survey to indicate you have heard the feedback and as a result are improving behavior or process. Your positive personal change will inspire others to follow your lead.
These minor changes can have an outsized improvement on your organization and bring new and revitalizing success. I wish you and your organization that kind of success that helps move you to the next level.