Death by status quo is a slow, painful death. Some people will say that they welcome change but for most, predictability is more desirable. Status quo provides a comfort zone where people experience security, stability, the known, the easy path. But that is an illusion that just delays the inevitable.

Many companies understand that they need to change as a matter of survival but in many cases the more they try to change, the more they stay the same. I worked at a number of companies that were eager for me to bring my brand of leadership into the organization to initiate transformation. But in reality they only wanted incremental changes that didn’t rock the boat too much. Change can be scary and uncomfortable as it takes us into the unknown. It disrupts our routine. Change means giving up control. And if we don’t have control we can’t possibly manage the outcome, right?

So what does Status Quo look like?

  1. Don’t rock the boat: When someone tells you that something isn’t working you push back to defend your decisions or the company’s position. You bring people together to discuss improvements but make excuses for why ideas won’t work. Eventually people stop participating. Managers and employees feel threatened by enthusiastic new recruits making their mark with new perspectives or suggestions. They get shut down with “that’s not the way we do things around here.”
  2. Employees won’t take risks: Fearing admonishment or ridicule employees avoid taking risks when it comes to making decisions or taking actions. Engagement toward their work wanes as the very skills for which they were hired are not put to good use. A culture of maintaining the status quo slowly erodes employee motivation and results in many lost opportunities within the company and externally as well. These status-quo symptoms can be felt through the conversations people are having or the ones they’re not having. Silence and body-language reveal much about employees’ state of mind.
  3. Business doesn’t evolve: A company in status-quo mode loses touch with customers’ changing needs and is not in a position to innovate. Products and services don’t evolve very much, if at all and the company rests on its laurels. Then as sales dwindle the blame syndrome sets in, “employees aren’t working hard enough, they work nine to five and just don’t care, competitors are cutting prices to steal business, customers aren’t loyal to companies anymore, the economy is killing business…”

Why change is vital for an organization

If a business isn’t changing, it’s stagnating. And if it’s stagnating, it’s not growing, it is not attracting talent and it is definitely not attracting new customers. Change is vital because you don’t just want to respond to an evolving market, you want to create change that puts you ahead of the pack. You want to be in a position where the market is trying to catch up to you while you are moving on to your next innovation.

Challenging the status quo is about getting comfortable with making positive change a part of the organizational fabric. Challenging the status quo:

  • creates learning that allows your organization to adapt quickly to change.
  • allows you to create an employer brand that top talent will want to work for.
  • helps you to be better prepared for a disruption to your industry that you can’t predict.
  • helps you be better prepared to deal with changing customer needs and to see those changes before it’s too late.

Challenging the status quo inspires creativity that inspires people.

How to challenge Status Quo

  1. Question your motivation: A “challenge the status quo” mindset requires commitment that allows organizations to constantly question its motivation for the way they do things, to make improvements as they are needed, to take risks, and to transform as required to adapt to a changing environment.
  2. Ensure everyone’s voice is heard: Organizations who challenge the status quo create a safe environment for people to express themselves. They coach employees to bring out the best in them and allow them to create opportunities for using their strengths. They are open to trying new things and they understand that making mistakes is part of the process for innovating.
  3. When an employee tells you something isn’t working well or that there is a problem, get genuinely curious and ask questions.
  4. Bring people together formally to share their perspective & find solutions. Discuss what is working well (so you can do more of that) and what isn’t (so you can stop or change what isn’t working.) This is a great motivator because people feel valued for their contribution.
  5. Create an atmosphere of trust. Leaders could learn to let go of control and coach their employees on how to make better decisions. Then managers can get out of the way to allow employees to creatively do their work.
  6. Encourage employees to use their strengths and give them the tools to effectively do their jobs. Recognize them for being creative and challenging the status quo. Grow leaders at every level of the organization.

Exit your comfort zone and encourage employees to do the same. Experience new perspectives and see how blind spots prevent your business from thriving.

Paola Graziani
Principal Consultant
Altimum IMS