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April 4, 2019

How to Challenge the Status Quo Successfully!

Faye Bradshaw


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"Well, that's just how we do things here... It's how we've always done it... It's best that you don't rock the boat..."

Chances are, these are the kind of dismissive responses that you've heard when you or your colleagues have suggested changing things in the workplace.

Change will always be met with resistance – just ask any visionary. Or even my friend Jo! On her first day in a new job, she spoke up in a team meeting when a co-worker raised the topic of a missed deadline. She said, "You should implement a task completion system for every team to use, like we did at my last job."

Instead of interest, her suggestion was met with irritation from her new boss, and defensive, scathing looks from her new colleagues around the table. "It would be nice not to have to treat our employees like children," the boss snapped. Jo's first-day excitement quickly dissolved into embarrassment and unhappiness.

But sticking with the status quo can result in both businesses and individuals growing stagnant. Just because something has worked until now, it doesn't mean that there's no need for reassessment, or room for improvement. After all, sending messages by telegraph worked perfectly well until Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone.

Identifying Opportunities for Challenging the Status Quo

Looking at the status quo in your workplace, what would you change right now? Perhaps you've already hit on a solution to a problem that's been bugging you for ages. Or, perhaps you just want to start thinking more creatively, to encourage personal growth, or to set yourself some challenges.

It could be something big, like branching out and trying something new in terms of services, products or clients. Or something small, like my friend Jo's task completion system.

I used to work with someone who, whenever we were invited to a brainstorming session, would complain that she "didn't get paid enough to do this." She'd whinge about everything that was wrong, but would never offer any solutions that might improve the situation.

No one's suggesting that you should start storming around the office, pointing out every little flaw and error. But making a positive, creative contribution can make your job more enjoyable. And, when things change for the better, we feel more engaged and content. Research shows that meaningful, creative work can increase work satisfaction, and by extension, employee performance and retention.

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Anyone Can Challenge the Status Quo

It can be daunting to speak up; to go against the grain. Even when we know something should be different, we don't always have the courage to take action. And when we do, we risk our ideas falling on deaf ears, or being overruled or ignored.

But fortune favors the brave! Let's look at some approaches that can increase your chances of success when you're considering a challenge to the status quo.

1. Ask the Right Questions

If you keep asking yourself "why" when you're following a process or regular course of action, then you've likely identified something that needs to be changed or improved.

If that's the case, ask yourself and other people questions, in order to fully understand why things are being done in a particular way. There may be good reasons that you're unaware of, or maybe it is just because "that's the way it's always been done."

Let people take their time in answering, and listen carefully – their answers may lead to further questions, problems or solutions that you hadn't considered. Our articles on Questioning Techniques and Active Listening may help you with this process.

2. Prioritize Your Ideas

Perhaps you have a whole list of ideas that you'd like to implement. If so, it's important to pick your battles. Being passionate about change is admirable, but rattling off new ideas every day will see people start to tune out, and your best ideas may get lost among the lesser ones.

For maximum impact, pick the ones that are most relevant and likely to succeed. Choose wisely: take some time for self-reflection at the end of the day, and factor in some personal brainstorming.

3. Gather Allies

If you're planning to challenge long-standing attitudes or processes, it can help to have people on your side! And the more ingrained the status quo that you are trying to disrupt, the more and stronger allies you may need.

Multiple perspectives can really help creativity to blossom. You won't be the only person in the office with ideas, and you might inspire others to speak up with theirs! Sow the seeds, and encourage others to think creatively and positively, too. This way, you'll gather allies who can support you if you meet resistance, either face-on or behind your back.

For more information on how to gather people to your side, see our article, Finding Your Allies.

Remember, collaboration is the key to success, so it’s important to put your ego aside. For example, when I was first starting out as a writer, I impressed a boardroom of senior colleagues with an idea for an ebook. Floating on cloud nine for the rest of the week, I was devastated to find out that I would only be assisting a senior writer with a single chapter. But my more experienced writer friend helped me to view the situation positively, and I ended up learning a lot.

4. Perfect Your Pitch

There's a fine line between firm reasoning and antagonism, and change is a scary and therefore touchy subject for some people. If you're too forceful, you risk people shutting off, and perhaps shutting down your idea before you even had the chance to sell it to them.

Instead, be sensitive to other people's points of view. Perhaps they've experienced a negative change of some sort, with damaging results, and are understandably cautious.

Listen to what they have to say, and be clear about what's at risk and what will be improved by your idea – productivity, sales or team morale, for example.

Keep your pitch short and snappy, and leave plenty of time for discussion and questions. Be sure to choose the right moment, too – it may not be something to bring up right after inspirational lightning hits you, when you're hot-headed after a bad day, or when you can see that your boss is already stressed or distracted!

5. Keep Calm and Persevere

If you don't succeed straight away, don't let exhaustion, anger or stress get the better of you, and don’t let hurdles or failures get you down. Learn from the experience and focus on turning negative emotions around. Some ideas can take a while to come to fruition.

Also, creative types sometimes have a hard time when it comes to persistence and self-regulation. Does that sound like you? If so, design a resilience strategy. Include distinct goals and a clear timeline that sets you up for little victories along the way that will keep you motivated.

Useful Resources

Staying Challenged Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges (Book Insight)

Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard (Book Insight)

Immunity to Change

The Change Curve

Powers of Persuasion

Persuasion IQ (Expert Interview)

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35 comments on “How to Challenge the Status Quo Successfully!”

  1. Positivity plays a major role in a person's life, either be at work or home. Motivation plays a major success to achieve your goals.

  2. I once questioned a waiver calculation. I was told that we work on a trust basis. We have to trust what the other team did. The issue will be raised at a disability claim stage by the disability team. (if a disability claim event will occur.)

    1. I think it's great that you questioned it. We have to question things we think are right. It might lead to discovering an error, or it might increase your understanding of a situation. In my opinion, it's better to challenge the status quo if you're in a position to do so, than having to deal with bigger problems down the line.

    1. Thanks for the feedback. Hope you enjoy more of our resources here to further your knowledge and skills.

  3. I very much agreed that you questioned it, if we can always question and think through whether we can better align or raise comments for better improvement which are all great.

    1. I believe that when we question things, with an attitude of curiosity rather than being critical, only good can come from that. There are always some improvements, adjustments, tweaks that can be made to improve things.

    1. Great to hear Sushmitha that you found the article helpful. Hope you enjoy more of our articles and resources to further develop your knowledge and skills.

    1. Glad you found the article helpful Rahul. Hope you enjoy more of our resources here.

  4. That was a great thing to read 🙂 I definitely believe that anyone can change their life and professional career. Anyone. I am in a process of doing it, so I am making a lot of courses 🙂 What helps me in that is Kanban really helps me to organize all my tasks which is why I am able to combine my professional and private life. Kanban allows me to study more - becuase I always know how much time I have left. I do appreciate that and strongly recommend 🙂

    1. Thanks Margaret for sharing about what tool you are using to help you make the changes. Well done to you for being courageous and making positive changes in your life!

  5. Thank you. Great read and quiet informative!

    I just realized that i have challenged the status quo. When i first arrived at work they had their own way of reporting, I questioned one aspect that did not sit right with me. I asked around and gathered my teams thoughts and i proposed an alternative way of reporting to the senior, it was approved!

    1. Congratulations Mosiuoa on challenging the existing way of doing things and getting changes approved. An outside or fresh perspective certainly does help to see and question the way things are done!

  6. I think a person does know when to challenge the status quo and having the courage to do it is inherently needed. Thoughtful communication and clarity around the 'why' will help land the purpose but the approaches listed cover those items. I'd add an eighth - have courage!

    1. Ann that’s a great suggestion! I agree, you often need courage to be able to challenge the status quo, especially when all around you seem quite happy to leave things as they are.

      MindTools Team

  7. Thank you, it is a very informative and a good read ... Nice Article. To Challenge the Status Quo .. we need to be more courageous ..

  8. Thank you so much for this article. I've been trying to stand up for myself and create a protest, so this really helps.

  9. Focus on the "value" of the changes you are proposing and how it brings value to the audience you are trying to influence!

    1. Hi Susan, that's a great suggestion.

      When we focus on the 'value' of changing we can better address why people would benefit from the proposed change. They're then far more likely to get on board with the changes, even if they were initially determined to keep the status quo.

      Mind Tools Team

  10. I have moved into areas where I had to change the status quo. It's a spooky place at time. The biggest fear is do I fully understand the area enough to add value in my ideas. I generally spend tie with the group to understand the historical view. Often as people what they think should change and if it was tried before, why did it fail. I like connecting dots approach. I learned very early in my career not to just charge in with new ideas without support or understanding.

    1. Thanks for sharing your feedback, Lannie. I agree with your point that we should observe and understand before rushing to make changes. That time spent shows that a person is willing to listen.

      Mind Tools Coach

  11. inspiring ! not for 1:1 c+p but absolutely inspiring for rethinking and applying

    1. Hi Michael,

      Thanks for reading and glad our post inspired you. If you wouldn't mind, please elaborate your view further about 1:1 C&P.

      Mind Tools Coach

  12. Am not assertive by nature and I do struggle . Two big take-aways for me were to perfect my pitch first, and then identify the right time to share these ideas. Thank you so much!

    1. Thanks Anita.

      It's great to hear you've got some implementable takeaways from this post.

      Mind Tools Coach

  13. I have challenged the status quo and sometimes this is a tough battle. The approach is by giving a lot of arguments and examples. Sometimes you win, sometimes you don't, but you really gain experience.

    1. You're right Dragos, sometimes it does feel like a tough battle to challenge the established status quo.

      But sometimes it's worth it, isn't it? And as you say, you gain useful experience by working out how to challenge effectively.

      Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts.

      Mind Tools Coach

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