Don’t Let Success Make You Complacent

The old saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” That adage might apply to computers and cars, but it’s not a winning strategy in business.

When we lose clients or market share, or when revenues dip, we are quick to find out what’s going wrong and how to fix it. But when everything is going well, business is humming along and both clients and team members seem content, that’s a great time to take a close look at your agency, firm or practice.

Merriam-Webster defines complacent as “marked by self-satisfaction, especially when accompanied by unawareness of actual dangers or deficiencies.” The Business Dictionary defines complacency as “contented, yet unconcerned, and uneager to improve or change.”

When complacency sets in — when you think everything is fine — that’s when you could be at risk of falling behind. Ironically, being successful often lays the groundwork for complacency to set in.

When was the last time you made a major change to a process, system or routine in your organization? When was the last time you announced an exciting innovation to your clientele or to your team members? With technology advancing at breakneck speed, we all need to be evolving, adapting and improving, or we will get left behind. Here are some strategies you can use to keep complacency from robbing your organization of its ability to grow.

1. Set and reach ambitious goals. We’re all about goals in the insurance and financial services business, so this should be an easy strategy to employ. In their
much-discussed book Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, Jim Collins and Jerry Porras stressed the importance of setting a “big, hairy, audacious goal,” or BHAG — a clear and compelling target to strive for.

If you’re not setting organization-wide goals, or if your goals aren’t stretching your abilities, set bigger goals. Compete with your own track record in all measures of success: revenue, AUM, lives written, client retention, advisor retention, the number of advisors qualifying for MDRT, number of professional designations among your team members, hours donated to community nonprofits, etc. However, you measure success, set higher goals. Maybe you need to evolve the way you measure success altogether.

Your team will most likely welcome the challenges. In fact, challenging your team is likely to make them more engaged and productive. A 2017 survey revealed that 61 percent of respondents who said they are engaged at work feel “challenged” or very challenged.

2. Do some research. If you were to ask your loyal, long-term clients why they do business with you, do you know what they would say? Consider having a neutral party conduct a formal or informal survey of your clients. Ask what they like about doing business with you and what you might be able to do better. Feedback is the mother of improvement. And if some clients have moved to other firms or advisors, find out why. The more you know, the better you will be able to meet prospects’ and clients’ needs in the future.

Have someone on your team, or an outside expert, research what your competition is doing. What innovative approaches are getting people’s attention? How can you improve on that innovation and tailor it to your clientele?

3. Ask your team what they think. No one knows your business as well as the leaders, advisors, and staff members who work in your organization, and no one is committed to your collective success. Let your team know you want to get in front of the next big innovation and lead it, not follow it. Have brainstorming sessions, and ask everyone to weigh in on what can be done to improve processes they work with every day. By getting everyone’s opinion, you will hear about improvements that only those on the front lines of client service and case design are aware of.

You might discover, for example, that there is a bottleneck in a process, or that your CRM isn’t sophisticated enough to create the reports your team needs, or that some of your systems need to be automated, or that your website is out of date and difficult to navigate. Consider offering incentives and rewards for those on your team who identify areas that need improvement and who suggest and implement solutions. Keep track of your ROI in terms of how much the improvements cost you and how your firm or practice benefited as a result.

4. Get out of your comfort zone. Being comfortable often isn’t synonymous with innovating. What can you do in your organization to push yourself and your team beyond what’s comfortable and familiar? Is there a revenue stream, a demographic market or some other “next step” you’ve been avoiding because it seems complicated or unfamiliar? That’s likely an area you need to consider moving into.

Dr. Elizabeth Lombardo, a therapist and the author of the book ‘Better than Perfect’, says people who regularly seek out fresh experiences tend to be more creative and emotionally resilient than those who remain stuck in a routine.

She says innovation happens when we step outside our comfort zone. “To be more creative, you have to try new things, see things in a new way and put pieces together in a new manner,” she says. She adds that fear of failure is one reason many reasons people stay stuck in their comfort zones.

5. Reassess everything. When was the last time you assessed your business plan, staffing plan, and compensation plan? When was the last time you found a new recruiting source or improved your online presence?

An important concept in Zen Buddhism is Shoshin, which means “beginner’s mind.” The belief is that you can learn something only when you approach topics — even those you know a lot about — like a true beginner. You try to see what you know so well with fresh eyes and a new perspective.

That belief is now backed up by research. In 2015, Professor Victor Ottati from Loyola University of Chicago conducted experiments showing that “self-perceptions of expertise increase closed-minded cognition.” In other words, those who think they are experts are more likely to be closed-minded. Those who are closed-minded are not likely to innovate and evolve.

What will your next innovation be? What will you do to move your organization forward? How far will you stretch your imagination and creativity, and how far will you step out of your comfort zone? How will you challenge your team members to do the same, and how will you reward their efforts?

“I will not allow yesterday’s success to lull me into today’s complacency, for this is the great foundation of failure.”
—Og Mandino