How to challenge the status quo

Leaders who push past the comforts of the familiar are often rewarded with some form of success, whether it’s a significant product breakthrough, a better organizational structure, or, at the very least, a clearer idea of how they can strategically plan for the future. This is all to say that challenging the status quo is necessary for leading innovative teams.

But it’s difficult to divert from how things have always been done. This resistance is especially true in unsteady economic environments or in times of sociopolitical unrest, where leaning on the familiar offers some stability amidst uncertainty.

However, there are ways to challenge norms and inspire change without upending every aspect of your business. Keep reading to see how leaders can encourage and implement change while getting the most from their teams.

Do Your Teams Need a Shake-Up?

Part of being a good leader is assembling groups of people who collaborate well and push each other to experiment with new ideas. However, leaders must also be able to recognize when that isn’t happening and how this inaction is negatively impacting progress. It’s even more critical for leaders to recognize when they are one of the reasons that people aren’t moving forward.

Playing it safe will only sustain an organization long before its competitors zip past with more creative ideas, more efficient workflows, or some other groundbreaking innovation that takes them to the next level. Staying competitive in your industry and securing longevity for people who depend on your organization requires seeing that things could be different and potentially better — and then taking action on that thought.

Why the Status Quo Feels Safe

Change comes with risk. People grow used to how things are done, and some cling to tradition even if they know that trying something new could benefit them. For others, it’s hard to feel energized by doing something different without confirmation that everything will go smoothly.

Other people avoid challenging the status quo because they know they’re not the only people affected by change. Companies of every size have multiple stakeholders to address, and the larger the organization, the more groups you have to consider before implementing change.

At Seven Seas Water Group, challenging the way things have always been done is built into the company culture. Henry J. Charrabé, the company’s CEO, explained, “I think to open up and question the status quo is a big part of the culture. That does not mean it is mutiny, but it does mean that everybody can be asked and questioned about what they're doing. And hopefully, three people always know more than two, so [they’re] making things better.”

Finding a New Sense of Direction

The following steps can guide you through your next change opportunity.

Start with self-awareness. People are susceptible to stagnation partly because they haven’t noticed their own patterns. Note how it feels when you’re doing something routine, when your plans change, or when someone presents new ideas. What causes internal resistance? Chances are your team experiences similar feelings.

Question before campaigning. Change typically comes from curiosity — why are things this way? Is this the best way forward? Could we better serve customers with a new approach or product? At the same time, be open to questions from others. Learning together makes pursuing and adopting change a cohesive team effort.

Acknowledge the past. Explain how things have been done, why they’ve been done that way, and why this new way can be better. Also, show how things could go awry and how you’ll anticipate and handle those challenges should they arise. Creating a solid narrative helps demonstrate the why behind the change and what people can reasonably expect after taking a new path.

Include others in your actions, implement change in your own actions, and be transparent about successes and failures. This will help teams take steps toward innovation while knowing they’re safe to fail if they learn and try again from a more informed starting point. Using a framework for change management can also help clarify your thoughts and make the process clearer for others.

Even if you arm yourself with strong supporting arguments, well-developed logic, or reams of data, you might still encounter resistance to change. This shouldn’t discourage you from leading teams from a transformational mindset. Instead, acknowledge it up front and consider ways to pivot if needed.

Written by

Megan Snyder
Megan Snyder

Senior Editor | CEO.com

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