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Home » Change Leadership, Strategic Communications

Defenders of the Status Quo

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Marketing guru and best-selling author Seth Godin recently published a blog post about the warning signs of defending the status quo. When confronted with new ideas, these “defenders” are adept at emphasizing the negative aspects of change and highlighting the positive aspects of the current state. For example they:

  • Highlight the pain to a few instead of the benefits for the many
  • Exaggerate how good things are now
  • Undercut the credibility, authority or experience of people behind the change
  • Grab onto the rare thing that could go wrong instead of amplifying the likely thing that will go right
  • Focus on short-term costs instead of long-term benefits, because the short-term is more vivid
  • Fight to retain benefits and status earned only through tenure and longevity

Shaking up the status quo can be particularly vexing for successful companies where maintenance of the status quo is the measure of success. Company leaders and managers believe that introducing too much change may upset their formula for success. However, this faulty belief system often causes successful companies to delay much-needed change until it is (nearly) too late.  Think Blockbuster video stores.

Contrast this with resilient companies that look past their current market, into the next five years, and critically examine the status quo in preparing their organizations to compete. Leaders in these companies anticipate and adapt their organizations to change, always with a focused and productive sense of urgency. They expect their managers and frontline employees to continuously challenge the status quo. Think Apple.

So, why do managers defend the status quo when they are in the very positions that can best advocate for and drive positive change? There are a few reason for this:

  • Fear of loss. Change often eliminates aspects of managers’ control or introduces new issues that they would not have control over. They may perceive change as infringing on their autonomy, and almost like a personal attack, managers may react to a change initiative as a “battle for turf.” Some managers feel that business changes will ultimately impact their own job security (note: middle management positions are often victims of large-scale business transformations).
  • Full plate. Managers protect the status quo because having to change is perceived as a burden. Introducing new ideas seems like extra work at a time when the pressures of daily activities are already high; and in this economy limited resources compound the problem.  Often, they are expected to continue all of their current duties in addition to implementing change.
  • Lack of skills. Managers are concerned that new demands will be placed on them by the business change. They are often uncomfortable with their role in managing the change process. Some fear they will become the target of mistrust and anger from employees. Others do not have the experience or tools to effectively lead change.
  • Skepticism. Some managers simply are not convinced of the need for change because they do not see a compelling business issues driving the change. Others disagree with the change and do not feel that the proposed solution will fix the problem. Managers who do not provide input in the design and planning phases tend to most adamantly resist the solution (the “not invented here” syndrome).

How you combat the status quo is the topic of many great business books. Within the context of business transformation, you can find a few useful nuggets on our site here and here. Finally, Seth Godin suggests a simple action we can take when we see the status quo being defended – call it out! Doing so will give your colleagues strength to challenge it.

Other articles you may be interested in:

Jesse Jacoby
The Editor of Emergent Journal and founder of Emergent, Jesse is a recognized expert in business transformation. He and his team partner with Fortune 500 and mid-market companies to deliver successful people and change strategies. Jesse is the creator of the Accelerating Change & Transformation (ACT) model and developer of Change Accelerator and Savvy Transition. Contact Jesse at 303-883-5941 or jesse@emergentconsultants.com.

One Comment »

  • Randy Somermeyer says:

    This nets out the need for the clarity of change. Resistance is primarily based on fear, bad implementation history, or no clarity. Which ties back to previous articles here outlining:
    – Clear Vision
    – WIIFM – individual, group and organization
    – Road map to change
    – Plus the various change techniques

    A couple of years ago I also have been hearing about leaving the laggards behind and focus on the mass. The laggards will either get on the bus or get left behind. Not to ignore them, but to give them a chance and a choice. Must be changing times.

    Keep the briefs coming…

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