Last time I wrote about status quo and how it becomes protected value within companies. I could tell you countless stories of people being (mentally) hurt by status quo. I could tell barely a few of these when status quo was defeated.
How to fight with status quo then?
A short answer is: change rules of the game. Until new status quo emerges everything will be different.
To elaborate a bit more, status quo is painful in terms of lost opportunities. Every time some talented and eager engineer hits the glass ceiling or a poor candidate is promoted over a good one or suboptimal organization is sustained the company loses. It loses in terms of productivity, performance and employee satisfaction. At the end it loses money since at the same cost there could be done more or there could be done equally much but at lower cost.
A good supporting question is: who sees all these problems?
Everyone who tried to improve something but failed because reluctance of people happy with whatever it is today. That would be one group. Another one will be made of few people who are high enough in organizational structure to see how things work, but at the same time have no real power, or interest, to change it.
Another supporting question: can these people introduce change?
No, they don’t. They don’t have enough power. They are either too junior or too new or work too far from the core of the organization. Sometimes they would even try to fight the reality just to learn they have virtually no chance to win. Status quo defenders are numerous and powerful and they prevailed many try-outs like this.
If you came to this point you can basically do two things:
- Change behavior of people who defend status quo. To succeed with this you need to open their eyes first. It may be possible but it doesn’t have to. How to do this? Well, bottom-up approach doesn’t work. If it did their attitude would already be different. What you need is someone with respect. Someone who would coach status quo keepers showing them ways of improvement. Make them aware there are different styles of management. Make them aware how they can improve their leadership. Make them aware how much they can personally gain if they enable changes in their teams. If this approach succeeds game rules will start changing slowly but constantly. Unfortunately this would work only when you have managers who were unaware of the problems. If they were consciously maintaining status quo chances are good your efforts would be ignored.
- Get someone experienced and give her power to change things. It could be one of these peripheral managers but as an insider she would be naturally perceived as an enemy by her colleagues. It’s better to get an outsider, someone who successfully cleaned up a company or two. Hire her and give her enough power to allow her to enforce changes over the current organization. Let the outsider change the rules. If you choose your candidate wisely, you’ll go through a number of clashes, some people will leave, other will be fired but in the end organization will work better. Why? Because every significant change in the company, every leaving, creates opportunities for those who want to improve organization and destroys at least a few glass ceilings. Of course you can rebuild every flawed element you’ve just destroyed but after all one of reasons you have your superhero outsider is to prevent that happening.
As I write this I’m perfectly aware how rare are cases when companies decide to undertake such actions. But every time I hear about another management failure which is triggered by defending status quo (and believe me I hear that a lot) I have the same thought: “Why won’t you, my dear execs, do anything to heal your organization?”
I surely am biased but it happens now and then that I believe I have a few recipes which would instantly improve overall performance, let alone some consistent work on fundamentals. After all management isn’t that hard if you have someone to learn from.