Leadership and the Status Quo

A sales leader (Chad) on my team recently shared with me a quote from his college basketball coach – “There is no such thing as status quo; you’re either getting better or you’re getting worse.”

Chad’s words hit me like a ton of bricks, as they apply to everything from personal growth and development to business process to product strategy. Change, growth, development, and improvement wait for no one. If you stay the same, the rest of the world will continue to improve around you. Hence, you will actually be getting worse…not staying the same.

Think of it like this:

 Screen Shot 2013-03-17 at 12.05.54 PM

As you can see, a status quo strategy results in a significant competitive gap. In fact, after considering this idea further, it is prudent to view the above in a slightly different way.

Screen Shot 2013-03-17 at 12.10.03 PM

I am sure you noticed the change in orientation of the lines, but did you also notice the change made to the Y Axis label? Unless you have a specific business reason and plan in place for addressing the competitive (and revenue) gap resulting from status quo, you better rethink any and all status quo strategies before it’s too late.

Perhaps what I am saying here seems painfully obvious, but here’s the catch – most organizations do not even know they are employing a status quo strategy. In fact, my money says that you can think of plenty of areas in your organization that substantiate this assertion.

We typically fall into the status quo mindset by accident as our natural human instinct to protect all that we hold dear kicks in. As we become increasingly comfortable with our surroundings, we tend to hold them more and more precious. In other words, we are, at our core, creatures of habit. We are naturally seduced by keeping things the same…even when they are in obvious need of transformation.

Why on earth would we accept the status quo? Here are a few reasons:

We get used to it. Think about the dent in your car that becomes virtually invisible to you once it’s been there for a while, or the repair that needs to be done on your home. We get used to these things that are in obvious need of repair because they become familiar to us. It is far more work to actually fix than it is to just ignore it. This is our natural coping mechanism, which very often works against us.

Change is frightening. As humans, we are wired to seek out and embrace familiarity. We learn this as babies, as our mother’s familiar touch soothes and comforts us. Even years later, familiar smells and surroundings take us back to a place of comfort. Stepping out of the familiar and into the unfamiliar is often an unnatural, uncomfortable act, so we tend to avoid it.

Risk. Businesses are chock-full of people who are mostly interested in minimizing risks, not taking them. In fact, the forces of risk mitigation are so strong in most organizations that new ideas for innovation often get shut down before they ever have a chance to fully develop. The status quo represents safety and certainty, while changes to it represent risk and uncertainty. Hence, change and innovation are often avoided until the pain gets so intense that change is the only viable option. Unfortunately, this is far too often too late.

I am basically saying that accepting the status quo is a normal human condition, and that we are actually wired this way. Does that mean that we should just accept this way of thinking and move on because it is normal? Absolutely not! After all, who wants to be normal?

A friend and mentor of mine taught me that talent, culture, and strategy (in that order) represent the recipe for success in business. As it turns out, the same three principles (in the same exact order) are your best bet for eradicating the status quo from your organization.

Upgrade your talent. Attracting new talent into the organization is the fastest way to bring about swift and meaningful change. Strike a balance between promoting within and attracting talented people with new ideas/perspectives from the outside. Rarely is change brought about so quickly as when new leaders join an organization, as they are free from the aforementioned reasons that lead to status quo thinking.

Change your culture. As leaders, we are directly accountable for the culture of our teams/organizations. If your organization is not actively and aggressively pursuing change, you must first look in the mirror. Are you truly making change a cultural priority, or do you personally accept the status quo? Healthy cultures that embrace change and push the business envelope are hard to create, and even harder to maintain.

Change your strategy. Once you have the right talent and the right culture, be certain that your business strategy is one that drives constant change and innovation. If you are not directly driving change in your business via your vision and strategic direction, the forces of status quo will bare down on you like a pack of hungry wolves. Free your team from the business-as-usual shackles by setting strategic priorities to innovate and blaze new and interesting trails.

“Let’s just maintain the status quo for now.” If you speak these words in today’s world of fast and dramatic change, they may very well be your last.

Lead. Courageously.

Follow me on Twitter @doughughes3


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