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Disrupting the Status Quo by Leading Change

Updated on December 31, 2014
Blue Hydrangea
Blue Hydrangea | Source

The world and business climate is changing at a hurried pace and the traditional means of building organizational competitive advantage is changing just as rapidly. Environmental, technological, political, economic, and competitive changes are forcing organizations to respond to change. The past was predicated on the ability for large businesses to leverage robust organizational strategies and budgets to capture markets with widespread brand awareness and equity while building both a domestic and global presence. Barriers to entry allowed organizations to experience exponential growth. But all of this has changed.

Have you ever heard of the saying “the more things change, the more things stay the same.” While there is some truth in this statement, there is little that is staying the same today. Oh, yes, there are individuals who will fight quite rigorously to keep the status quo or things the same. But there is little that isn’t changing.

In the face of a changing environment, how can an organization create and build a competitive advantage? The key is to disrupt the status quo in order to thrive on change while building resilience to adapt to changing customer demands, economic, and marketplace shifts. This agility will place an organization in the best position to maintain strong market performance over time. Resilience allows organizations to face setbacks and challenges and to rebound and spring forward after adapting and adjusting the organization's response to the threat, the changes, or the eonomic and market shifts.

The Webster dictionary defines the status quo, a Latin term, as the way things are now; the condition or state of affairs as they are currently. To disrupt the status quo and create the organization’s future, one need only understand that change cannot be managed but leaders can lead how their organizations respond to change.

Of course, the challenge with change is that just as one individual finds change troubling and confusing, against everything they know; the next individual might see change as something exciting, or an opportunity to learn something new. It is clear that individuals’ react or respond to change in varied and different ways. This applies to leaders as well. The ancient Chinese might have understood this paradox better than most when centuries ago, the Chinese character for crisis incorporated a combination of the symbol for danger and the symbol for opportunity.

Pink Hydrangeea
Pink Hydrangeea | Source

It is quite fascinating that managers are often focused on maintaining the status quo, i.e., keeping the sales trends high month over month; ensure expense reports and paperwork are completed in a compliant fashion; and ensure that each presentation is fair and balanced and that the individual closes with a request for the business. And yet, leaders, today, are focused on disrupting the status quo by creating change. This makes leaders and middle managers at odds with each other. There is surely a give and take phenomenon going on here.

Leaders are absolutely critical in order to push through the inertia of doing things the old way (“that is how we have always done it”). Change must overcome underled cultures to create the new future of the organization.

I don’t think there has ever been an organization that thought they didn’t try to align the strategic priorities all the way throughout the company to all levels of employees but rarely is this done in such a way that there isn’t some margin for improvement. So the several important steps to disrupting the status quo are as follows:

Four Key Areas for Focus to Disrupt the Status Quo
Make sure everyone knows the strategic priorities of the organization
Get volunteers involved
Ensure personal and organizational accountability
Openly discuss the changes that the organization needs to make in order to ensure transparency

(2) Get Volunteers Involved

Get people involved in ensuring the organization’s success. But also consider giving people some new tools: training in change or Lean Six Sigma so that individuals have new skills and competencies that they can apply in their work world within the organization. People will show their thanks as they rise up to meet the challenge placed before them.

(3) Ensure Personal and Organizational Accountability

Times have changed and each individual should know that they have to "power through" to achieve the stretch goals set by the organization. Senior leaders should lavish rewards and recognition to the teams that really deliver on their stated goals. Holding people and teams of individuals accountable is an important step to evolving the culture to be one of high performance and accountability / a place where people are proud to say they work and are willing to expend extra effort to ensure the organization's short- and long-term success.

(4) Along a Shared Vision, Openly Discuss What is Changing

Establish bold mantras: We are not going to say, “That is how we always have done it” as an excuse to keep the organization from moving forward or allow functional silos to rule. Functional silos allow individual departments to think of themselves as opposed to what is needed by the organization holistically. The customer is the one who pays when this occurs. Progress is impeded by an organization’s own team of individuals. This simply cannot be allowed to occur.

Blue Hydrangeas
Blue Hydrangeas | Source

The ways to ensure that this has reached everyone can be accomplished in the following ways:

(1) Make Sure Everyone Understands the Strategic Priorities for the Year and How They Align to the Vision and Mission of the Organization:

(a) First the vision has to be an inspiring one. It can’t be just about saving money. If there is no burning platform, then align the vision to spell out the future direction that the organization is headed. Sometimes things have to get really tough in order for people to be willing to change and disrupt how things have always been done. If the behavior is so entrenched even the most noble vision will not be strong enough to propel people forward. Keep challenging the status quo and these individuals and if they are unable to change, they will have to go.

(b) The company website should declare the 3-4 strategic priorities clearly (not so that you have to click to open and read about strategic priorities to understand them but clear-as-day, right smack on the front page of the main company website, posters highly visible throughout all corners of the organization, and it should be prominently displayed for the entire calendar year to signify that we don't abandom the strategic priorities three-quarters of the way into the year. Likewise, the previous year's strategic priorities should not be the first thing employees see when they come back from vacation on January 2...the new year's strategic priorities should be dramatically displayed creating something to talk about besides how the holiday was. Use creativity to call out the organization's strategic priorities or to bring it forward but make it visible and shine a light on this very important topic so that you have the best possibility chance for everyone in the organization to understand the strategic priorities and where the organization is headed and what their individual role is in ensuring the organization's success. If the sales organization has a different website, the same 3-4 strategic priorities should be front and center and clearly placed on their website as well aligning the entire organization.

(c) As you enter and exit the home office there are signs reiterating the 3-4 strategic priorities for the year and asking each employee, “Do you know how your job fits into these 3-4 strategic priorities?” If the company also has sales professionals, the same should be done at each company meeting.

(d) All correspondence should be aligned with the strategic priorities so if the organization has a newsletter or a videocast, use the same 3-4 strategic priorities to align the message and discussion, and key highlights.

(e) At the mid-year and year-end discussion, each individual should be asked to explain how their individual role (their job) contributed to the 3-4 strategic priorities of the organization. Managers should watch for accountability and engagement throughout this discussion or this could present a relevant coaching opportunity.

(f) Each Business Resource Group (BRG) could be asked to address this topic of helping individuals understand the alignment of the 3-4 strategic priorities from the board all the way to the lowest level of the organization. Ex. It has been said that the Janitor at NASA when asked what he did for a living, was clear: “I helped put a man on the moon.” This is the type of clarity that an organization needs in order to ensure alignment and engagement of all employees.

(g) Make table tents and tent cards that spell out the 3-4 strategic priorities and then post them wherever items are posted: by the copier or on the bulletin boards. It doesn’t need to be fancy or expensive – it just needs to be clear.

(h) A quick pulse survey will help to gauge how well the strategic priorities are seeping down throughout the organization.

So what is the reality? In the 21st Century, the turbulent whitewater rapids of change is ever present creating shifting tides that make it more challenging for an organization to know how to respond. Market leader positions or sure-thing pipelines are no longer so sure, the competition has already leaned out and gotten even more competitive, technology is changing so fast that the one size fits all philosophy no longer applies, and globalization means there is great opportunity combined with even greater challenge and risks. In short, organizations and their leaders need to create a powerful shared vision, get people involved, ensure personal and organizational accountability, and openly discuss what is changing. The objective is that when this is done well, the people and the profits will follow.

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