3 Easy Steps as a Leader to Challenge the Status Quo

3 Easy Steps as a Leader to Challenge the Status Quo

In today’s fast-paced environment where innovation is no longer a luxury, it’s no surprise that in my conversations with leaders, the pace of change in organizations and the marketplace is often a focus.  

They’re asking questions like: How do I make sure our people have what they need to adapt quicker than ever? What if they fall behind? How do I need to adjust my leadership to make all of the change possible? 

One way to ensure that your leaders and teams will succeed is by creating an environment to challenge the status quo. After all, real change starts with you. You must give yourself permission to question the status quo of your organization and invite your team to join you.  

Unfortunately, challenging the status quo isn’t something leaders like to do. According to Harvard Business Review, 72 percent of leaders say they never or rarely challenge their status quo, nor do they encourage employees to think outside the box.  

If you want to make sure your employees are set up for success and create real, sustainable growth for your organization, you must constantly think about how you can adapt and change. 

Organizations develop a status quo for many reasons. They range from leaders feeling pressured for time, to the struggle to prioritize, to a more systematic issue of an “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it” culture. 

WHY THE STATUS QUO IS PROBLEMATIC

It’s important to realize status quo is 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, breathing entities that change with the people who inhabit them. Policies that worked for one generation of employees 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.  

Status quo can be comforting because it’s easy —  it doesn’t require us to challenge ourselves or each other. It doesn’t require us to take risks or potentially be wrong with the changes made. Yet, when you follow the status quo, over time, your success will stall because 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 what it can become.  

WHAT YOU GAIN FROM SHAKING THINGS UP 

Don’t get me wrong, 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. 

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 a culture where challenging the status quo is encouraged. Leaders need to have a forward-thinking, growth mindset — a state of mind that doesn’t settle for an attitude of the bare minimum and instead looks to their teams for insights on how things can be improved.  

The most successful leaders set out to support new values, policies, and ideas.  

A leader also 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 so you can start creating something new and say goodbye to your status quo: 

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 really asked, though?  

If you haven’t, now is the time. 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. The goal is for multiple people to work through an opportunity and challenge, so multiple views can be heard.  

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2. Ask more questions.

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

Maybe a major overhaul isn’t even in order, and it’s just 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. This is where you may miss 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.  

PUTTING IDEAS TO ACTION 

As a small business leader, I consistently grapple with challenging the status quo. I believe one of my fundamental jobs is to make sure we are focused on the right objectives as an organization, and that our brilliant, capable team has the resources needed to accomplish what we have set out to do.  

I think most leaders would agree that this is a central function. However, the rubber really hits the road when my team members bring me ideas or comments about shifting focus or resources. This is the dance of challenging the status quo and taking action. 

Here’s a great example:  Our short term strategy has been to improve our core offerings rather than focus on developing net new products. When a leader or team member comes to me with an amazing idea to build X or Y product, it could be easy for me to say, “This doesn’t fit with our strategy.” The issue with that response is that it shuts down further exploration of the status quo of our strategy.  

Instead of me responding that way, I remind myself to ask questions and get curious. In a growing and changing business, it’s dangerous to believe that all strategies and focuses are 100 percent spot on, so it’s necessary to invite conversations and get curious.  

In the end, at times it has been deemed that the focus should be to stick with the strategy, and other times, the question or recommendation shifted the strategy for the better. I actively thank our Fiercelings for engaging in conversations with me about what’s working and not working so they know their perspectives matter to our organization as a whole.  

It’s a constant journey to challenge the status quo, and it’s the essential job of a leader to interrogate reality  — to get clear on what’s truly happening and be open to learning and shifting perspective.  

Gone are the days that the President or CEO has all the answers. The job of all leaders is to seek answers, ask good questions, and be a place where fierce conversations can happen.