I am coaching a men’s basketball team in the fall Columbus Recreational League, and at the beginning of the fall season I polled the team to see what day they wanted to practice.

“We don’t need a practice, coach,” said one of the players. “We are just fine, and we are going to win it all.” He was highly confident since we had just concluded the summer league with a series of wins featuring double-digit point differentials. The team had also just concluded the summer league playoffs by winning the division championship. We accomplished this with lots of practice and by learning how to play together as a team. But somehow success had negated the need for hard work to continue. We had become complacent.

“So, what makes you think we are just going to keep winning in the future just because we won in the past?” I asked. “Well we still have the same team coach. Nothing has changed.”

Well, guess what? In between the summer season and the fall season, several things had changed. The other teams that we were easily defeating in the summer session had acquired some new talented players, had logged some serious practice sessions, and as a result, had gotten much better.

So, after several impressive wins out of the gate in the fall season, we suddenly rediscovered what it felt like to lose — two in a row, in fact. You see, if the competition gets better while we remain stagnant, then we have a recipe for disaster. Indeed, in order to keep on winning, a team must constantly strive to improve and get better, and never let off the gas.

While I was visiting a customer in Indiana, it really hit home when I read a placard hanging in their conference room which read, “The greatest threat to excellence is complacency.” – Nick Saban. If you are familiar with Nick Saban, he has been a successful coach at the University of Alabama with a record there of 101-18, seven bowl appearances and five national championships.

Now lessons in sports oftentimes translate to business as well as everyday life, so I wanted to hear from this company’s quality manager about how his company battles complacency to remain in the forefront of the industry. This company uses a team approach when it comes to meeting goals and solving problems. Whenever I am visiting, the day’s activities are always reviewed in the conference room at the end of the day by the whole production team with the GM presiding. Measurement systems are employed to monitor and measure various aspects of product quality, productivity and even machinery status.

“You see, measurement is extremely important,” says the quality manager. “You need to know where you are now before you decide where you want to go. Once you decide how you are going to get there, you need ongoing measurements to determine when you have arrived.”

So, one might say that this company is highly focused on measurement techniques. They are highly focused on investing in new machinery that lends itself to data collection, or modifying existing equipment if possible, to achieve similar results. I went to sell them a new argon filling machine, and they told me that they would not buy it unless it came with an ethernet connection. So, an ethernet connection they got. It was added to this machine to meet their needs for measurement. They are also investing in new software that collects this data, analyzes it and aids process improvement. Indeed, there is no complacency residing here. 

So, the key point here is that successful companies must constantly fight complacency. They do so by continuously scrutinizing metrics – measurements which depict the heartbeat of the company. These might be measurements taken from the factory floor as well as sales and profitability numbers. Once the metric monitors are plugged in, the company leaders continuously strive to move the meter.

So just like the lesson my basketball team learned, competition is constantly getting better, and so must you to remain in the winning column. Excellence cannot be achieved when complacency is present.

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