Why the status quo bars companies from exploring new ways to operate

Status quo thinking manifests itself in many forms. One is a “this is the way we have always done it” mentality, an attitude that sometimes morphs into a company’s culture — and that in turn could stifle a company’s growth potential.

Joe Cole, executive vice president at Sequent, says it’s often a company’s own success that fosters status quo behavior.

“Many companies founded by entrepreneurs early on, regularly challenge the status quo out of necessity as they attempt to establish themselves in the marketplace,” he says. “Then as they achieve success at some point, they become, as Jim Collins points out in his book ‘Good To Great,’ either fearful, complacent or dare I say arrogant.”

Smart Business spoke with Cole about challenging the status quo.

What drives companies to fall into complacency?

By nature, humans are creatures of habit, and that may help generate the status quo.

Also, success lulls companies into business complacency — ‘Things are going pretty well in this tough economy.’

Then there’s the concept of losing perspective. As you get immersed in the day-to-day operations, the concept of not being able to see the forest for the trees also allows the status quo to become ingrained in an organization’s thinking and culture.

Why is challenging the status quo so difficult?

The status quo is perpetuated because of myths about what is required from an organization to change and why an organization should change.
Being creatures of habits and routines, we take comfort in them, so when organizations want to challenge the status quo, change is disruptive, which equates to upheaval.

The reality is change does not need to be disruptive. In fact, any change, to be truly transformational, has to work within the natural flow of the organization. There are two types of fear: fear of the unknown and fear of being left behind, of watching others win. The latter can often blur the vision of leadership as leaders attempt to change for perhaps all the wrong reasons.

How do you keep employees from doing what they have always done?

People and organizations, including many leaders see change as ‘revolutionary,’ that it is an event with a launch, tag line, activities, etc., versus being a natural component of an organization’s DNA. Markets shift, attitudes shift, dynamics change in the marketplace and so your ability to respond to that — your nimbleness — is something that has to be part of the corporate DNA.

That is where leaders have to be willing to insist the concept of ‘We’ve always done it that way’ can’t reside in their organization. They need to lead by example. Then change can happen, and it can be a more natural change versus an upheaval.

Can change be driven from the bottom up?

Yes. Bottom-up organizations have the benefit of providing the people who directly interact with customers the ability and mechanisms to espouse their perspective derived from direct interaction with customers.

Where does a company best start the process of change?

It should step back and analyze its current operations. Don’t keep any sacred cows; everything is fair game. In our world, we focus on the people side of organizations; therefore, we seek to educate our prospective clients that perhaps there might exist a better way to attract, retain and align human capital versus the way you have always done it — that is, traditional HR.

Ask them to contemplate, ‘What might be changed in these areas that could really free you up to focus on the core functions of your business?’ The first thing is awareness and asking yourself rhetorical questions that perhaps, ‘I am a victim of my own thinking and there might be a better way to run this part of my business.’

It is at this point where a leader is open to new ideas and thinking, and he or she can truly embrace an introspective look at the business operations, customers, market opportunities and in turn challenge the status quo in a way that is liberating, transformational and ingrained in the organization’s DNA.

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