The Status Quo

Posted by Mike Kaaks

06 March 2013

The Status Quo is like mud around your ankles; it creates a barrier against change.

In the dictionary it is defined as the existing state of affairs; they have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. Breaking the status quo would mean changing the existing state, to get ahead, to change for the better, or simply to do something else. Beyond these dictionary definitions I've found it has another almost sinister definition. It lives in the culture of organisations. It emerges when change is afoot, creating a barrier to your change agenda. It speaks in lines like "no, we tried that and it didn't work" or "that won't work here". It lives in businesses large and small. Sadly it is most commonly found in people who are not confident about their place in the business.

It resides in team members who by virtue of their long service have become the oracle, the "see John he'll have the answer" guy. This last quality makes it difficult to challenge. Aside from his Status Quo malady John has lots of valuable corporate knowledge to pass on - we don't want to lose that knowledge, or the sharing of it. Also, because he is connected in this wayJohn has become well liked. But we have to change if we are to succeed.

I'm sure you've had the experience of dealing with this situation. There are two fronts on which it is to be challenged. Firstly, with John himself, and secondly with his colleagues and how they react when his authority is challenged. Let's consider John. Does he know he's doing it? Is it part of his sense of self worth? How will he feel if we encourage him to avoid the status quo approach? You can hear some of this conversation in your head…"I'm just doing it to help the business".."I don't want us to waste money and effort on things that don't work". All good sentiment; we want our people to do act in the interest of the business. Sadly John misses the point that his status quo experiences happened in a different context. Different customers, altered consumer preferences, higher cost of goods, changes in competitor strategy. Any of these might mean something old can be new again, might not recreate the status quo outcome.

Because you've heard John and his status quo arguements many times, you're well equipped with information to share with him through feedback. < mmm, so this has become a blog about feedback> Feedback is information, not judgemental hearsay, and it should be delivered in calm circumstances, and should always start with self assessment. "John, what is your view off the advice you've given the change team about their ideas for change?" Unlike performance discussions there's not the strong probability here that John already knows what you're there to say. What you will get from his answer though is a clear understanding of how he sees things. This enables you to engage in a conversation about what needs to change in which your intent is not mismatched with the impact it is having on John. Alongside your feedback skills you need to bring your A grade listening. Empathetic listening. Matched together, listening and feedback are your strongest tools for collaboration and engagement. And for dealing with the Status Quo at the personal level.

Dealing with the rest of the team relies on similar qualities, although it's more about dialogue than feedback. Listening is common in both situations. The team need to see that your intent is not to attack John, but to challenge the case he is making. Playing the ball, not playing the man. In fact you might enlist one of the team members to deliver the feedback if they are someone who is highly supportinve of the change agenda whilst also being someone who values John's overall contribution to the business. The key is not to get stuck in the mud!