Business is a competitive environment.  There is no doubt about that. There is also no doubt that in order to survive, let alone thrive, in such an environment every business needs to find the competitive edge.  Yet, so many businesses actively steer clear from the one thing that will provide the competitive edge for their business – empower employees to challenge the status quo.

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It is a baffling decision in the current economic climate.  Everyone is talking about the challenges faced by businesses, the tightening margins, and the need for greater innovation and creativity.  Yet, practically every business on the planet has access to two sources of competitive advantage: engaging employees and learning to empower employees to challenge the status quo.


In this article, we will deal with the latter – why we should empower employees to challenge the status quo.



Creeping Death (my personal definition of ‘status quo’)

My preferred definition for ‘status quo’ really says it all quite succinctly.  This is what the status quo is.  It is a creeping death for your business.


Status quo really refers to how we have done things that may have worked in the past, but may not work now.  Yet, many feel it is best to stick with the tried and tested methods that served them well in the past.  They seem not to understand that time and methods move on and evolve.  Your customers require new approaches, products and services.


When we protect the status quo we are actually making a very clear communication to everyone around us.  This communication more or less tells others “We don’t like change.  We are more comfortable with how we have done things in the past and that is how we are going to do things in the future.”


Stealth is the status quo’s most dangerous weapon and why I refer to it as ‘creeping death’.  Often, senior figures in an organisation don’t realise that it is happening.  Slowly, over time, behaviours and responses evolve that are not healthy for the development of the business.  It may be that some people simply stay too long or there is not enough new talent making it through.


Maybe that new talent isn’t trusted and is discouraged at different levels in the organisation.  This is a pity, because you need the fresh eyes to recognise that the status quo is being protected at great cost to the health of your business.

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Impact of the Status Quo on the Business and Talent

Pierre Nanterme, CEO of Accenture, explained in an interview for The Washington Post why he was overhauling performance reviews.  He explained, in this and other articles, that he was impressed by the millennial generation and that he couldn’t simply impose the status quo on them.  This is a clear statement.  He knows the impact of maintaining the status quo.


The impact of the status quo is to simply debilitate an organisation. The culture becomes stagnant and all creativity, innovation and true collaboration is crushed by those who have an interest in maintaining the status quo.


Have a look around your business and see can you identify these two types:


  1. Disruptors
  2. Guardians




The Disruptors

The Disruptor population probably contains your talented employees and will contain a good chunk of your millennials.  It probably contains the employees that can give you the competitive edge.  It is this population that will innovate and create.  They are your high performers.


But do we always see them as high performers?  In many organisations, probably already slipping into the stagnancy of the status quo, the disruptors are seen as trouble makers.

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The disruptors are motivated and driven to improve and to innovate.  They don’t want to simply do things in the same way all the time.  Disruptors are constantly evaluating how they work and how it can be done quicker, easier, simpler and more cost effectively.


Pierre Nanterme recognised the power of the disruptors among the millennial workforce at Accenture.  He knows that he must protect them to protect the competitive edge and probably knows disruptors in previous generations were lost to the status quo.


Disruptors want to do great things for your business.  They are your competitive edge.



The Guardians

Unfortunately, disruptors will always meet the Guardians of the Status Quo.  The title I have given them here runs the risk of making their guardianship seem really important.  However, they are more likely to be a Guardian because it suits them, not your business.  Guardians are more interested in protecting their own interests and detest change.


Look around you.  The Guardians are usually those employees who stay a long time and move around a number of roles in your organisation, usually trying to find a role that gives them some status and authority.  They live in the past when they possibly have built credibility in previous achievements and use that to protect their future.

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I said above that they ‘detest’ change.  They don’t.  They fear it.  Fear is a more powerful emotion and motivator than simply detesting something.  For an example of a Guardian led culture, see the events taking place at FIFA over the past decade or so which led to the role of the organisation being seriously damaged and compromised.


Guardians will refer to Disruptors as ‘loose cannons’, ‘trouble makers’, and ‘ones not to be trusted with anything important’.  They fear the change proposed by Disruptors.  And, if you have given them authority over your disruptors….what do think is going to happen?


Empower Employees to Challenge…..

Or your disruptors will simply leave.  They will probably find a warm welcome with one of your competitors.


Your competitors will be delighted to welcome your unwanted disruptors.  Do you want to identify exactly where in your organisation disruptors are being ushered towards the door?

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