We all have comfort zones. Some are expansive and fluid while others are limited with rigid boundaries. In reality, comfort zones serve their purpose. They provide a respite – a familiar place that feels good, the place where we feel confident, the place where we are at ease. You’ve no doubt seen the memes and refrigerator magnets about stepping outside your comfort zone because that’s where the growth happens.
Yet, have you ever considered that all of the talk about comfort zones, and all of those memes and magnets always focus on the individual? What about organizations? Leadership teams? We forget that anywhere there are humans there are comfort zones – it would be easier if they were visible, but they are recognizable if you look.
Organizations often struggle with silos and segmented communications – those are comfort zones on display. There is much jargon about breaking down silos and yet very little discussion about expanding comfort zones.
When you consider your organization’s flaws and areas for improvement, do you need to break down silos or would it be more effective to expand your collective comfort zones?
One of the most limiting things to an organization is to be unaware of its comfort zone. When leaders surround themselves with employees and managers who constantly agree with them, who aren’t encouraged to present ideas or challenge workflows – everyone stays a little bit sleepy, comfortable in that space that seems safe.
But comfort zones aren’t always safe – in fact, they can be dangerous places if you stay there too long. Ask Walmart. They sat back and discounted the notion of online shopping as Amazon ate into its market share. By the time Walmart stepped outside its comfort zone to respond it was too late. They were on their way to losing billions of revenue dollars that will never be recouped.
When leadership teams surround themselves by staff who aren’t encouraged to challenge the status quo or make suggestions, those employees take their ideas to other leaders who will listen. That’s what happened at the United States Postal Service. They had the opportunity to expand their methods of delivery with the novel idea of overnight and express services. They weren’t interested, but UPS was. We know how that turned out.
Few, if any, organizations strive to be average but far too many sit back and stay comfortable because they’re afraid to fail – and likely even more afraid to admit it. When organizations step outside their comfort zones they take a risk – on that is often done in public or in the face of impressionable employees. Flailing and failure can happen. Sometimes the company looks bad or becomes the latest punchline on late-night TV. You’re likely not reading this from your Windows Phone while drinking a New Coke or a Crystal Pepsi. But, you recognize those companies who took those risks because you’re still purchasing from them today. You could well be reading this from your Windows laptop drinking a Coke Zero or Diet Pepsi.
Successful people take calculated risks and so do successful organizations. They step outside their comfort zones knowing they will either fail or succeed at whatever they attempt. And 100% of the time they will have succeeded at having tried.
Our global society is experiencing a precarious and unprecedented moment as a deadly virus reminds us that our comfort zones – that collective locus of control – isn’t as safe and secure as we once thought. We will get past this virus, and COVID-19 will recede, but not before it leaves a toll of lost lives and battered businesses in its wake.
Ultimately, the coronavirus will have been the catalyst for positive change across our global society. And we’ll see that those improvements were not made by those who stayed securely rooted in their comfort zones but rather by those willing to fail in order to succeed.