“To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.” – Winston Churchill
It’s very easy to get comfortable with how things are and ride them out—even when those things are bad. To a large extent we’re conditioned that way from birth, molded to fit society’s current standard way of thinking and living. Most of us go from wanting to change the world to just wanting to be assimilated into it. And the same can be true of business. We start with bold ideas, then find ourselves in a realistic middle ground: we settle, and keep settling. If the system doesn’t appear to be broken, why try and fix it?
The hard truth is this: The status quo could be your most dangerous competitor. It’s a type of corporate malaise that will slowly drain your organization of its creative energy and stifle the change-oriented thinking that will move your business forward. It’s the difference between a business that is doing OK, to one that is targeting real sustainable success.
Success can lead to status quo thinking
So how does a stick-with-the-status-quo situation come to be? It often starts with success itself. Let’s say you have a lean-and-mean startup that makes it big. Production rapidly expands to meet demand. You hire more people. You add processes and the proper tools that are needed to make more great work happen.
But then somehow the business changes. You’ve gone from being the new kid on the block that can leap tall buildings in a single bound and out-maneuver the larger, slower-moving competitors to becoming a business of greater heft, and less agility. Now, you are left responding to market demands and industry changes with the turning radius of a tanker ship.
Businesses and organizations are like people. They get in ruts too. Whether you’re a new business or a well-established one, you need to identify when your rut could cost you your shirt, and you need strategies to move ahead.
Here are some clear signs that your organizations is in a status-quo rut and needs to take a good hard look at itself and refresh, reboot and regain its momentum.
1. You’re slow to respond
Remember the old days when there was only a handful of you running the show and you all shared the same office, so decisions were made super-fast? Now that you’re running an over-100 person organization it’s not so easy is it?
Chances are that too much of the decision making is being done by committee; and that committee is not really empowered, so everything has to go higher up the tree for ratification. And now you’ve replaced a process that was so streamlined it almost wasn’t a process with a super highway of processes. But is having a process for every little thing really adding value?
Find your bottlenecks and fix them. Get your agility back. Don’t be a statistic.
2. You’re missing targets
If you’re missing financial targets or consistently failing to deliver to project schedules, there should be alarm bells going off left right and center to alert you to the fact that your current approach is flawed. Now, this probably sounds too obvious to even point out, but the key thing here is addressing the issue of falling short, even if it’s just ever so short. Don’t simply accept mediocre performance. Your customers might forgive one slip—might . . . but what about the next one?
3. Costs outpace revenue
If your numbers are trending the wrong way, you’re either not giving the market what they want, or you’re delivering your product in an inefficient way. Or, maybe your product has been well-received to date, but what have you put out there recently to keep key customers on the hook?
You need to keep inventing and reinventing—staying one step ahead of competitors to keep your customers interested. You can’t just depend on past glories. And if your cost base seems too big investigate your work processes. You can keep adding head count to the organization, but if you have some built-in inefficiencies in your workflow and processes, hiring all the geniuses in the world isn’t going to help.
4. You don’t talk anymore
Collaboration is key to getting great work done, but that’s harder to sustain as businesses grow. If everyone just retires to their siloes and does their own thing, there’s no collective thinking; workflow gets stilted and creativity rarely finds a voice, if at all. And no, no, no!—the answer isn’t “more meetings.” Maybe fewer meetings and more chat tools. Maybe the office layout needs re-thinking; maybe more social events – there might be lots of maybe’s but there’s always one certainty—change!
5. You’re working hard at standing still
Everyone looks like they’re busy all the time. But are they busy on the right things? You’ve got twice the people you used to have, but business hasn’t doubled so what are team members busy with? People have a tendency to bemoan the fact that, “There’s just not enough hours in the day.” Really? Maybe many of those hours are just being wasted on activities that don’t add any value.
Find out. Use analytics tools that are part of your project management software; if your tools include time tracking, inspect those metrics; or get everyone to track time in a company-wide experiment to see where everyone’s time is going. Sell it as a group effort to be master time managers, so people don’t feel like they’re being targeted, or watched.
6. Attendance is dropping off
Check your absenteeism. If it’s on the up that this is a good sign that your troops are overworked and/or under-motivated. When team members’ attendance goes down, it’s a sign that something is wrong. It could be a sign of burn out; poor leadership, low pay or low team morale. Perhaps fewer are willing to do more than their contracted hours. Or maybe staff turnover is up and you’re losing your talent to your competitors.
Whatever the suspected reason is, talk to your team and the team leaders to the bottom of why your company is not the place people want to work at. Consider doing anonymous surveys to get candid responses.
7. Your old tech
It’s neither efficient nor economical to go after every new tool/gadget/shiny thing that comes on the market. But with IT development marching on, you need to keep an eye on what might serve your business better than your current systems. Have your current platforms and tools been in place a while? Are you committing serious time and resources to keeping them running? Are they serving the business as you’d wish?
It is so easy to just use the same old thing because it just seems too hard to switch to something new. Who’s got time to manage that? Bear in mind that suppliers will work with you to achieve a successful transition. And unless you make the big bold switch, the returns from your existing solution will be ever-diminishing.
Wherever you sit within an organization, challenging the status quo should be encouraged and supported. Change doesn’t happen easily, but we have to move away from free-thinkers being thrust out of the inner circle just because their thinking doesn’t fit the current MO. And change isn’t just about a one-off purchase of a new tool or some minor tweaks to an existing process; it has to be part of your culture; it has to be in your corporate DNA. It’s all about creating a healthy environment of dissatisfaction with the norm. This motivates people to think differently and work differently to fuel a more agile and more responsive business—and a successful one!
It’s easy to get caught up in a status quo rut. Could your project management process be the culprit? Find out—we’ve got just the tool for you! This 9-question multiple-choice quiz will diagnose the health of your project management tool and/or process. Take the quiz!