Thursday, May 19, 2016

3 important ways to challenge the status quo.

One of the things I really like about Client Focus is their desire to challenge what they already know and do. For a strategist, it's heaven. In a time when "Kodak moment" uniformly makes business people cringe, it's great to work for a company that knows this simple truth: business as usual is a death march in today's economy.

Why challenge the status quo?

Externally, the status quo is yesterday's business. If you're doing things the way you always have, you know by now that someone, somewhere is figuring out how to make you obsolete. They're figuring out how to provide what you provide for a tenth of the cost, or how to provide it ten times as well as you do, and at better margins.

Internally, the impact of the status quo is a stagnant culture that pushes away top performers. Your best employees are driven by the need to do something great. When they run into obstacles that don't make any sense to them, they start thinking about greener pastures. Of course, the opposite is true of your bureaucrats and your go-along-to-get-along employees. They hope to milk the status quo for as long as possible. They hate change.

You already know this, though, right? Which brings us to the more important question.

How do you challenge the status quo?

This really isn't as hard as you might think. You don't have to invent it from scratch. You have people trying to do it right now. Your bureaucrats and go-along-to-get-along employees resent them; they're high performers, but they rock the boat. You know who they are, but do you know that all that boat-rocking is a reaction to the status quo? Here are three things you can do to help them help you succeed:

1. Define the status quo. Make a list. Get others to make a list. Recruit the boat rockers. Show everyone in your company what the status quo looks like. Your bureaucrats won't like it. They'll agree to the least provocative pieces to avoid detection, but they will have lots of reasons why the meatiest parts should be left alone. Get the list out. Make it available for everyone to see.

2. Paint a target on it. Once everyone has seen the status quo, you've got to make it safe--even rewarding--to challenge it. Most employees (boat rockers excluded) will see a personal risk in stepping up. How will you empower them? How will you break the barriers to challenging the status quo? If you don't do that, six months from now your goal to challenge the status quo will be another one of those trendy things that your company tried. Can you afford that?

3. Promote people who challenge the status quo. Some of these folks seem like loose cannons. What will give you better mileage, teaching them to be more mature leaders, or teaching your bureaucrats to embrace change? As surely as you're reading this post, some of your loose cannons will go on to be movers and shakers elsewhere in the industry. Your bureaucrats and go-along-to-get-along employees will never leave. They'll just move up and around in your company, looking for something important to be in charge of.

Challenging the status quo isn't easy. Neither is lying awake at night worrying about what will happen to your company. At least challenging the status quo puts you in the driver's seat.

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