Outstanding Organizations: No Denial Allowed

“Complacency is a state of satisfaction combined with an unawareness of potential danger, and it’s often characterized by one word: smug. Outstanding organizations know that “smug” doesn’t work. They understand the need to beat back complacency again and again.” Outstanding! Chapter 43: “Stay Alarmed”

In the late 1980s, early in my career selling management training, a mentor would say this after a client meeting that didn’t go as well as I’d planned: “Remember, just because they deny they have problems doesn’t mean they don’t have any.”

Denial. It’s a dangerous place to live.

Whenever any of us on the QBQ, Inc. team comes in to teach “Personal Accountability and the QBQ!” we always provide a pre-session questionnaire. Here is one of the questions we ask:

“Ideally, how would you like to see your organization’s culture change?”

Some clients give us little, some give us a lot. I spoke recently for an extremely successful corporation that all of you would know by name. If you’ve ever watched an NFL game or two on Sundays, you’ve seen their commercials.

This organization would be described as “outstanding” by any measure, but they answered our culture question so candidly, so forthrightly, that I was once again reminded of this truth:

Outstanding organizations, and the people that work for them, are never “smug” and rarely satisfied.

You see, in some organizations, the goal seems to be this: “We Will Be Nothing Less Than Mediocre!”

But the client I just visited? Totally successful and yet here are the cultural changes people there desire:

  • Greater cross-functional teamwork at all levels.
  • Less concern over who gets the credit.
  • Less confusion over who owns decisions.
  • More openness, transparency, and candid conversations.
  • People/teams recognized more for contributions to projects.
  • Less political; greater focus on adding value than “who you know.”
  • Clearer prioritization of key initiatives.
  • Elimination of “silos.”
  • Quicker to adapt and change.
  • More effective planning and fewer fire drills.
  • Faster decision making.

Yes, you could apply any of these to a thousand organizations. What is special here is not the specific problems identified, but the fact that this list was shared with us at all … by people at all levels who already work for an outstanding organization.


Pizza king Papa John (John Schnatter) shared this with me: “John,” he said, “I’ve always found that people who struggle are hard on others, but those who do well in life are hard on themselves.”

And so it is with organizations. The outstanding ones are rarely satisfied—always fighting the battle of complacency—and never allow “smug” or “denialism” to creep into their world.

Remember—as we write in Outstanding!—we can only coast one direction:


Exit Questions:

Do denial and/or complacency exist in your organization? Are departments, teams, and people coasting? If the question, “How would you like to see your culture change?” was posed where you work, how candidly would people respond? Share below!

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10 Responses

  1. Our organization is cutting jobs. The remaining staff are doing two to three times the work they were initially hired to do. I was raised to do whatever it takes, keep your head down and work hard, and step up to the challenge every time. Several co-workers have said they are not doing any more or volunteering to take on anything else because once you do they load you up, then get rid of you. I have been here 10 years and don’t agree.

    How do I respond to these negative Nellies without alienating them. So far, I have been relying on setting an example by my actions but, the negativity is getting worse.

    Any suggestions?

    1. Marci, I would suggest reminding the “Nellies” that work surely isn’t going to get done while they sit around and spew venom! Seriously though, I would just keep setting the example through your efforts and asking, “What else can I do … ?” Leadership is always watching AND it’s the right thing to do.

    2. Marci, it truly sounds like you’re doing your best. QBQ! content would help you to continue to ask, “What can I do to be my best?” That’s all one can do in situations like these. Or leave. 🙂

  2. As always, good informaiton. This organization seems to be embracing and practicing safe communication as well as personal awareness and accountability. I am in an organization that has several traits that Marci describes and will offer what I have started trying. In a very kind and inquisitive tone of voice (no verbal darts), My response has been along the lines of “Well, it certainly is choice to make those decisions. You’ve obviously given this some thought. What other ideas have you had to bring some relief to not only yourself, but all of us? I’m willing to put our ideas together and present them for consideration if you’re interested.” So far, most people have not really shared many ideas, but it seems to reducing the amount of negativity. I’m hoping it is a small seed that is planted that really will get them to thinking of ideas we can share together in the future. I hope this helps!

  3. Marci,

    INVITE the negative Nellies to join you in being affirmative about the organization. If they refuse, INVITE them again later as you show by example that you want to change the organization’s outlook even as the negative people spread a plague of negativity. If they persist in participating in the negativity, persevere in your INVITATIONS to being more positive and overcoming the difficult work conditions. People are drawn to hard workers who take initiative and INVITE others to join them in working hard in spite of bad circumstances.

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