This guest post is by Priscilla M. Cale and David C. Tate, co-authors of “Sink or Swim: How Lessons From the Titanic Can Save Your Family Business.” David is a licensed clinical psychologist, assistant clinical professor at Yale University and consultant. Priscilla is a family business consultant and lecturer with broad experience in both the private sector and academia.
Being average is not good enough – but how can business owners make sure that their businesses are not in peril of trending to mediocrity?
A driver of mediocrity is complacency – the lack of proactivity in light of increasingly imminent demands or the lack of initiative to grow or “do better.” Complacencyin the workplace appears in various forms: financial complacency (the desire to preserve capital), innovative complacency (the desire to maintain the status quo in creating incremental improvements to processes or products), technological complacency (associated with fear of leveraging and/or learning new systems), and even health & safety complacency (associated with the belief that workplace health & safety risks will not result in lost workdays or incidences). However, the most insidious of complacency risks is that associated with personnel complacency – which is the progenitor of all other branches of complacency.
Oftentimes, complacency is not recognized as a contributing factor to the failure of a project until after the project has already failed. Here are five tips for how business owners can monitor the levels of complacency in the workplace throughout a project (before it becomes problematic or the project trends towards failure):
- Set sensible timelines throughout a project – and stick to them. Too often, managers overseeing projects and key initiatives set just a final deadline; but they fail to establish “tollgates” throughout a project to monitor progress. Be sure to establish deadlines for key steps in the process so that it doesn’t put succeeding steps at risk – and ensure that all functional departments have input and buy-in into the schedule and deadlines before the project is officially launched.
- Check in with the team. Some of those who oversee projects or initiatives walk a fine line between laissez-faire management and micro-management. But, even more so, some don’t regularly check in with team members (or those leading projects) because of a lack of understanding or insight into the project itself (they may not know the technical terminology and/or don’t want to get mired down in details that they don’t fully understand). It is critical, however, for those managing projects to check in at regularly established times to understand the major hurdles the team if facing, discuss shifting priorities, celebrate small wins, and ensure that everyone understands the project’s progress and next steps.
- Communicate the line of authority to empower employees. To make sure a project doesn’t fall off the rails, it’s critical to communicate to the team the line of authority (who has the power to do what) and empower employees to elevate the threat of a situation. Complex projects face various hurdles when requiring different corporate functions and resources to work together – especially when one function is complacent in meeting commitments. Ensuring that employees are empowered to “skip levels” in communicating threats helps to keep projects on task in particularly bureaucratic environments.
- Document. Make sure that you document all important information – conversations and timelines, items that went as planned, items that did not go as planned – and any other items that are important to note. This will be critical in ensuring that you have visibility into the project in the event that a team member is no longer participating in the project, you are able to offer guidance in the event of a major project hurdle and that you can monitor those who are contributing or complacent.
- Share in the positive rewards. Two mistakes that managers oftentimes make when it comes to sharing in the positive rewards are (1) not giving timely positive feedback and/or (2) giving positive feedback that is laced with negative undertones (i.e. “Congrats for a job well done! I probably would’ve done this part differently, but good thing it worked out…”). When complimented on jobs that are well done, instant positive feedback goes a long way – particularly in reinforcing positive behaviors. Share positive feedback, give credit to the appropriate persons and make sure compliments are sincere. And make sure you separate the celebration of what went right from the process of discovering of what went wrong.