Shake Off Complacency and Create a Sense of Urgency

Respond fast, move now, and get something done.

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A sense of urgency is a powerful, if not essential asset in an increasingly fast-moving and fast-changing world. Without urgency, most things never get done. Worse yet, when companies are in trouble and need to change, they don’t. Is it because urgency isn’t in their vocabulary or has the complacency bug bitten their butt? In this article, I talk about what complacency is, provide three examples of how it works and how creating a sense of urgency can bring new life to an organization.

What is complacency?

Before you can figure out if you are complacent, you must learn what complacency is.  According to the definition provided by a Google search, complacency “is a feeling of smug or uncritical satisfaction with oneself or one's achievements.” Merriam-Webster defines complacency as “a feeling of being satisfied with how things are and not wanting to try to make them better: a complacent feeling or condition.”

As much as you may have thought that complacency is an attitude, it’s not. It’s a feeling that an individual has that seems or feels right given the circumstances.

Enough of the analysis, especially as I am no psychologist or psychiatrist!

How complacency works

Let’s set the stage for how complacency works. Here are three examples. 

1.    There’s a critical point at hand – a top customer in Asia needs her product delivered three weeks earlier than expected. The president of the import-export company asks his export operations manager to set up a meeting to discuss.

Can it be done? Two weeks after the president asks that a meeting is called, the meeting is scheduled. Meanwhile, the customer will not get her order delivered in time.

2.    Quality control is getting out of hand at the supplier in Vietnam for Top Quality Broom Company. A conference call is scheduled by the import manager to discuss how to deal with it.

After all, there’s proof - the product is being delivered with noticeable blemishes. During the call, no one seems to know what to do. People at least agree that they must approach the supplier in a manner that is non-confrontational yet conducive to having an open and honest conversation on the importance of producing superior quality brooms. Another call is scheduled to determine the next best steps. Everyone hangs up, and it is later discovered that three out of the five people on the call cannot make the next scheduled call. Meanwhile, the overseas supplier keeps cranking out shoddy products. 

3.    One of the biggest orders of the year for ABC Company is just about to be completed, and the CFO learns that the customer will take a three percent early payment discount even when the payment is not being made early. The CFO wants to hold the shipment until the payment discount issue is resolved. The plant manager wants to ship to get the goods out of the warehouse so they can produce the next big batch of products for another customer located elsewhere. The CEO would like to get the billing in for the month and the only way to achieve that is to release the goods, allowing the customer to take the discount.

The CFO sends an email to the key people involved indicating why it is important to honor their discount policy, not to mention how it will save the company thousands of dollars, and re-emphasizes to not release the goods to the customer until the payment discount problem has been resolved. The plant manager responds defending his position. The CEO answers emphasizing his rationale on letting the goods go – no matter what. Five days later, emails are still being exchanged on how to handle the order. Meanwhile, the existing customer thinks all is fine with his order, goods are not moving out of the facility, and other company’s products are not being made. Although this example screams of poor management and leadership (just plain terrible business tactics), it also touches on the notion of complacency.


In all three examples, no one felt a sense of urgency. No one felt something had to be done, and right now. No one felt – “here’s the problem; let’s solve it.” If they had, they would have brought new life to not only the situation but also to the company. Responding urgently is a tactic that creates results quickly. A sense of urgency will only become more essential over time as we try to differentiate ourselves from others, especially competitors who operate in the same space.

With a true sense of urgency, people respond fast and act now. So I leave you with this: Whatever is happening right now at your import-export business, do you need to move at 10 miles an hour when 70 is needed to win in the global marketplace?

Photo Credit: Jeremy Brooks