3 Easy Steps as a Leader to Challenge the Status Quo

3 Easy Steps as a Leader to Challenge the Status Quo

As a leader, give yourself permission to question the status quo of your organization and invite your team to join in.

Organizations develop a status quo for many reasons. Those reasons range from leaders feeling pressured for time and the need to prioritize, all the way to a culture that has a “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it” mentality.

What we mean by status quo is the current state of affairs. It’s how things are, and depending on the topic at hand, perhaps it’s how they’ve always been.

Status quo is also a bias. It’s a preference that things stay the same. In a sense, it’s an aversion to change. Adhering to this bias is problematic, especially in business, because growth requires change.

Companies and their cultures are living and breathing entities that change with the people who inhabit them. Policies that worked for one generation might fall on deaf ears to the next. Training that was successful for the employees of a mid-size company may no longer be ideal once the organization grows to the size of a large corporation.

What Holds Us Back

Status quo can be comfortable because it’s easy. It doesn’t require us to challenge ourselves or each other. It doesn’t require us to take risks or change what we’ve gotten so used to. Yet, over time, following the status quo will become uncomfortable. Individuals, teams, leaders, and companies will miss out on opportunities for growth, and stagnation becomes the mode of operation. This is when it’s time to challenge the way it’s been and think about how it could be.

Challenging (and changing) the status quo can be scary. It often requires courage and a willingness to go against the grain, while potentially butting heads with others who are less open to new ideas.

And keep in mind that challenging the status quo doesn’t have to mean that something isn’t operating well or that something needs to change. People often have the idea that something has to be wrong before suggesting improvements. Sometimes challenging the status quo simply means proposing a new idea that may be worth exploring—perhaps it’s already great, and is there a way it can be even better?

It's leadership’s responsibility to create the kind of culture where challenging the status quo is encouraged. Leaders need to have a forward-thinking mindset—a mindset that doesn’t settle for an attitude of the bare minimum and instead looks to their teams for insight on how things can be improved. The most successful leaders set out to support them with new values, policies, and ideas that are important to them.

A leader can’t create this kind of culture without action. By asking your team to share their perspectives, you not only build emotional capital with your employees, but you also help build a more productive workforce.

Below are three easy steps to start having these conversations with your team organically.

1. Invite all perspectives.

As a leader, you may think that certain training or policies are working because no one is saying differently. Have you ever really asked, though? If you haven’t, change that now! Invite differing perspectives from within your organization to examine issues and be thoughtful about whose perspectives can really lend a fresh new point-of-view. The goal should be to get the people who are affected by specific policies and training in the room. At Fierce, we use the TEAM MODEL to help companies have these types of conversations. You might be surprised by what you learn.

2. Ask more questions.

When an employee comes to you and has an issue with the current status quo, take this opportunity to get curious with them and ask these questions:

  • Is there something that isn’t working?
  • Why isn’t it working?
  • How can we fix it?
  • Where do you see opportunities for improvement?

Maybe a major overhaul isn’t even in order, and it’s a simple adjustment that can make everyone more engaged. These one-on-one opportunities with your team are great ways to, little by little, shift away from the current state of affairs towards something more meaningful.

3. Be ready to help the change.

If a team member brings a new idea to the table, keep an open mind. If your default response is one of resistance and you’re quick to say no, the other person may feel dismissed and you may be missing out on a real opportunity to make an improvement that could benefit the entire company. Consider all variables, including the resources you have available to implement the idea, and explore all avenues you can to make a positive change possible.

If you don’t want to change a policy or process because it’s producing results, or perhaps to change it just isn’t unrealistic at this time, communicate this to your team. Don’t waste everyone’s energy getting feedback if you’re not going to do anything with the information. There is no quicker way to lower your emotional capital as a leader than to ask for new ideas and then ignore the input. You risk setting a false expectation, and it might send the message that their ideas aren’t good enough. Both are outcomes that are much worse than sticking with whatever current policy you have now.

As a leader, it’s your responsibility to both challenge the status quo and be fully receptive when your team brings something new to the table.

Want to learn more about creating a culture where challenging the status quo is “the norm?” Download our eBook 5 Conversations You Need to Start Having Today.

This blog was originally published on April 23, 2012 on the Fierce blog; last updated October 2018.

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