The Status Quo Pep Talk

How to deal with a major impediment to your job performance and career growth.

By Brent Filson - 7/2008

In this economic downturn with its spiking energy costs, companies are reacting in predictable ways by freezing and/or cutting learning leaders’ budgets.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Fixated on cutting costs, most companies are neglecting to identify and develop the most important energy source every company possesses, the human source.

Since learning leaders are constantly advancing the performance of human capital, your budgets, in these difficult times, shouldn’t be cut but increased.

In my monthly e-zines, I’ve offered a number of ways learning leaders can position themselves as key leaders in their organizations, leaders whose functions help achieve top-line and bottom-line earnings growth and so should be relatively immune to budget cuts.

This month, I’m going to talk about something you must deal with if you are to realize your maximum potential in your organization: your company’s status quo.

The status quo is the existing state of things in an organization. From many people’s perspectives—salespeople, customers, production line personnel, investors, etc.—the status quo can be a good thing.

But from a learning leader’s perspective, the status quo is, and always should be, wrong. That’s because learning leaders should be just that, leaders first and managers second.

Leaders should always be achieving more results faster continually, whatever those results are. And the status quo is usually the most persistent and powerful impediment to that achievement.

In this article, I won’t show you how to deal with the status quo.

Here are ways I've already described on meeting the challenges of the status quo. 

  1. The Leadership Talk
  2. The Critical Convergence.
  3. Small-unit Leadership.

Instead, I’m going to show you simply how to identify it and know it for what it is, a failure-producing machine. For if you can’t first identify the status quo’s existence, its toxic relentlessness will overwhelm your activities. 

I’ve seen first hand how a robust status quo can hamstring a corporation. I did leadership consulting work for one of the Big Three auto companies. Up till then, for many years, I had been consulting with General Electric where leaders were held accountable for their actions and were quickly replaced if they didn’t achieve the needed results.

At the auto company, I discovered different leadership expectations. Nobody got fired for missing results, incompetence was rewarded with promotions, results-missing excuses were taken to a high art form and were invariably accepted as coin of the realm, and the defining ability to get ahead in their jobs and careers involved, primarily, being politically skillful.

I witnessed a presentation by an executive who later became CEO. It was technical and unfocused. But the audience loved it. They said he was one of the company’s most effective speakers.

Which goes to show how the status quo of mediocrity can truly bewitch people.

Here’s the critical thing that learning leaders should know about the status quo: It’s not that it gets poor results. After all, if you know you’re getting poor results, you can start taking steps to turn them into good results. The critical thing is that the status quo gets mediocre results but represents them as good results.

And poor results are less harmful to an organization than mediocre results misrepresented as good results.

Through your programs, you should be getting not average results but more results faster, and "more, faster" continually.

The status quo is the enemy of the "more results faster continually" because the status quo is in business to be the status quo first and get results second. Its number one priority is always itself, its own preservation.

Of course, without the impulse toward self-preservation, organizations would quickly fall apart. But when the impulse hijacks the need of the organization’s leaders to adapt to changing circumstances, the status quo is a threat.

For instance, for years until the mid twentieth century, IBM flourished by having their machines perform calculations using punch cards.  But then the digital revolution came along.  However, during the late 1940s and early 1950s, a strong group of IBM employees were wedded to punch cards and were convinced digital would ruin the company.

As IBM CEO Thomas J. Watson Jr. said in his book, Father, Son & Co., "There wasn’t a single, solitary soul in the company who grasped even a hundredth of the potential the computer had."

It took his strong leadership to fight off the status quo and move IBM into the digital age. If the status quo had prevailed, IBM would have been out of business in a few years. Still, the status quo put up such a fight that switching the organization from punch cards to digital processes nearly destroyed the company.

The IBM example is not the exception but the rule: The success or failure of any organization hinges to a great extent on how its leaders deal with the status quo.

No question about it, if you try to get into the realm of achieving more results faster continually, the status quo will attack you. The question isn’t, "If " but "How?" and "When?"

One way it attacks is to work you so hard you don’t have time nor inclination to change. Another way is by giving status quo pep talks to gain ardent support. When you are ready for them, you are better able to deal with them and get ahead of the curve in thwarting the status quo.

Here are some phrases that may be used in status quo pep talks to rally people against anyone threatening its existence.

"Pretend to go along and they’ll go away."

"Just do your job and nothing more."

"Agree with anything they say but do what you want to do."

"Let it die a natural death."

"We tried that before and it didn't work."

"It’s not our responsibility."

"We’re not ready for it."

"I'm too busy."

"That's not my job."

"Wait ‘em out."

"We’re doing fine without it."

"You're the leader. You take care of it."

"That's not the way we do things."

"You'll ruin this organization."

"You don't understand me."

"You don't understand what I'm doing."

"You don't understand our organization."

"It's more complicated than you think."

"I'm doing the best I can."

‘We can’t afford it."

"Give me a break."

"You're not being realistic."

"You’ll squeeze me dry."

"We’ve never done it that way before."

"Don’t you have better things to do?"

"I’ve got too much on my plate."

"Don’t bust a blood vessel."

"I’ll help -- if

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"Brent Filson knows how to help others get results! His programs are proven in a variety of settings including industry, government, non-profit and the military proving that the way he practices and coaches leadership can work for any organization willing to invest the time and energy necessary to influence their people to produce at their highest productivity levels.”
—Joe Javorski, Director, Worldwide Staffing, Analog Devices

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Lots Of Help On My Web Site:

On my web site, you’ll find many of my books, articles, interviews, course descriptions, and instruction methodologies that will help you in many ways boost your job performance and advance your career by helping your clients get the right results in the right ways.

Best wishes,

Brent Filson
Brent Filson