Bob's Gutsy Leadership Blog

Status Quo VS. Change: A Delicate Balancing Act

Seeing 101 year old IBM hit an all-time high of $210 per share recently caused me to recall that this is an organization that almost went bankrupt because it ignored the need for change and clung to the status quo in the 1980’s (i.e., excessively high priced mainframes). Then, starting in the 1990’s, IBM superbly executed significant change in moving to services and software while it also diligently managing the status quo as hardware became a commodity business.

There is always a case for protecting the status quo.  It is the current performance engine that dictates your results and you need that engine running well.  Also, the organization is configured and your people are trained to serve that current performance engine and change can create some amount of chaos in your efficiency and reliability, the morale of your people, and in your results.

There is always the case for change.  To stay ahead of competition you need continual improvement and innovation which imply change.  We know that markets and technologies are constantly evolving and improving, resulting in the necessity for change.  Lastly, people need to grow and mature, and change provides great opportunities for personal growth.

So… how does a leader successfully manage these two very different forces?  Here are a few tips that are time tested:

1.) Nurture and protect fresh thinking and innovation – The status quo protectors will view change efforts as threatening.    In the early 1980’s it is well known how IBM management fought the folks inside the company who were pushing to get in front of the shift from mainframes to PC’s/workstations and servers.

2.) Objectively evaluate new ideas – The importance of the status quo in achieving today’s results will cause you to have difficulty in being objective about the potential of new approaches and ideas.

3.) Re-organize – Configure the organization so part of it protects the status quo performance engine, while at the same time, part of it tests new ideas, launches them in the market, and in no way held back by the current operating model.

4.) Recognize that there is short term cost – Risks have to be taken in the form of allocating talent and dollars to adequately test and roll out change.

Net, strong leaders execute the status quo with excellence AND pursue impactful change/innovation.


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