“The manager accepts the status quo; the leader challenges it.”
Warren G. Bennis
“Status quo, you know, is Latin for ‘the mess we’re in.”
“If you want to increase your success rate, double your failure rate”
Of all the phrases I hear in the workplace my least favorite are:
“That’s not my job”
“I’m just doing what I was told”
“That’s the way we’ve always done it”
“I’m too busy”
Each of these phrases is rooted in the status quo. Each displays a mindset reflecting reluctance to change. All are too frequently uttered in the workplace and hinder flexibility, creativity and initiative while usually motivated out of fear. Why? Change rocks the boat. It ruffles feathers. It requires thinking outside of the box. It looks different. It requires buy-in. It takes work. Change involves risk. There’s always that nagging feeling of “What if this doesn’t work?” Most importantly, change requires permission.
The Fear of Failure
Nobody likes to fail. Failure is defined as: lack of success, an unsuccessful person, enterprise or thing. Some synonyms for failure are failing, fault, fiasco, breakdown and bankruptcy. Society takes a negative view of failure. It is all too often equated with incompetence and that’s not necessarily always true. Change can occur at the individual and group levels. What is true is that change might not always be successful, there’s risk involved and all too often that is viewed as potential failure.
Someone challenging the status quo needs to be emotionally mature enough to risk failing. An organization needs to embrace the fact that failures will occur. Without accepting the possibility of failure, an individual will never learn and grow. The same can be said for an organization. A company that avoids taking risks because of the possibility of failure squelches new ideas and change and subsequently can impede its own growth and that of its employees. May I suggest that we should not only accept the possibility of failure but permit it!
What Did We Learn?
The foundation of progress is laid with change. Change is driven by learning. Learning what needs to change or learning why a change didn’t work provides lessons that give the next change or the next “new thing” a better chance for success. Often learning occurs as a result of a failure born from an attempt which began by challenging the status quo. For each of us, we only make those attempts if we accept the possibility of failure. For companies, those types of attempts only occur if permission is given to fail. That may sound counterintuitive but perhaps another way of stating it would be “Feel free to try”.
Because We Can
When considering a break from the status quo it’s still important to consider the phrase, “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it”. Deciding what kind of change should take place requires asking the right questions. Just ask the folks at Coke about the infamous change in the soda’s formula and subsequently the taste of Coke. As much as New Coke appeared the result of “because we can” thinking, it was based on consumer taste testing. While consumers responded that they liked the taste of the new formula, no one asked them whether it should replace the “old” Coke.
Coke saw an opportunity for change, their consumers saw differently. The soft drink maker learned its lesson and inadvertently caused Coke drinkers to reconnect with the taste they had taken for granted. Coke listened to the marketplace (the 2nd time at least) and after 79 days returned Coca Cola classic to store shelves. And, they learned the importance of asking the right questions. Coke weathered that storm and their executives still cite the attempt as an example of “taking intelligent risks”.
As Always, It Starts at the Top
The spirit of change begins at the top. The tolerance of the status quo resides there as well. If leadership has feet of clay then so goes the organization. As a leader, do you encourage intelligent risks and permit the possibility of failure or do you promote or tolerate the status quo? How do you respond when you hear any of the four phrases above?
Are you willing to give your folks permission to fail? Feel free to try…
Here to serve,
Next month: Thanks for the Memories