Why getting ahead in business means getting beyond the status quo

Athletes and actors know the ravages of age will catch up with them sooner rather than later if they don’t outline a health regimen and stick with it, but the rest of us are often content to let ourselves go.

Even if you feel healthy now — and look better than ever — a paunch and a passel of cholesterol meds could be right around the corner if you’re not staying on top of your game.

The same can be true of a business. You might be growing, hitting your numbers, and making a respectable profit, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t in danger of dying.

Dan Schroeder

On May 27 at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison, Dan Schroeder, the program director at the Edgewood College School of Business, will give a presentation titled “Keep the Status Quo From Killing Your Business.” The talk is part of the IB Seminar Series.

“It’s often not until we’ve put on 20 or 30 pounds that we make a New Year’s resolution about shedding weight and exercising,” said Schroeder, “and often it’s not until we get in trouble with our clients — we’ve had clients peel away or our sales are down organizationally — that we start to think, ‘Hold it, what’s going on here? We’re doing many of the same things we’ve always done, but how come the results aren’t the same?’”

During the seminar, Schroeder will show attendees how to:

  • Unearth opportunities by challenging the status quo
  • Rekindle an entrepreneurial spirit within an organization
  • Foster a corporate culture that embraces change

Not surprisingly, says Schroeder, older, more established businesses are more vulnerable to complacency, after the whirlwind startup phase has passed and the wolf is no longer at the door — or at least appears to be in hiding.

“After we’ve had a certain degree of success, we become satisfied with how things are going, and perhaps we become insulated by our success,” said Schroeder. “We’re not as risk-taking, we’re not as change-oriented, we may not be quite as comparative in terms of the judgments we’re making externally, because after all, we’re doing pretty well in the market. Where are we in terms of the comparison with others? If we’re in the upper X percent, that’s fine; we’re good enough.”

To Schroeder, it’s important for companies to maintain an “external perspective,” which is more likely to lead to positive change.

“So there tends to be maybe more of an internal perspective, and then when that internal perspective is examined, affirming judgments are made, versus an external perspective that maybe challenges methods and procedures internally.”

Staying young

Of course, just because change is the way of the universe doesn’t mean you need to throw out all your processes and best practices and completely remake your culture. Some industries — like IT — move at the speed of light, while others are plugging along in a fairly static environment.

The key, says Schroeder, is to know yourself and your situation, which will help you identify where challenging the status quo is appropriate and where it isn’t.

“If we understand who we are, if we understand uniquely our culture, the market sector in which we operate, maybe we can be more in focus with some things that would be applicable,” said Schroeder. “The point of best practices always needs to be, rather than blindly adopting them, specifically adapting them. So there needs to be self knowledge, cultural understanding, and then some very basic things of encouraging risk-taking and questioning and involvement at all levels of employment.”

(Continued)

 

To some degree, companies also need to examine the demographic makeup of their workforce. It can be a touchy and difficult subject because of federal and state laws prohibiting age discrimination, but according to Schroeder, there’s a real danger in stanching the flow of new blood into an organization.

“If you’re looking around at your successful organization and it’s populated by mid-career people with decades of experience, there’s strength in that, but there’s also a concern in that,” said Schroeder. “Are those mid- to late-career people edgy? Are they still challenging, or inevitably have they begun to slow down and maybe fallen into a pattern of behaving?

“One of the things I’ll touch on in the seminar is this issue, because Wisconsin has some stark demographic characteristics. We have been a migration-out state, we have seen a brain drain. … We have one of the highest percentages of boomers and one of the oldest workforces in the nation. And there’s no guarantee that even a young person doesn’t have a status-quo mindset, but if the powers that be upstairs at whatever age they are, if they’re holding on or precluding the kind of challenging behavior, involved behavior that we’re talking about, that’s a problem.”

But there’s more to keeping an organization vibrant than simply replenishing it with young talent. Companies also need to keep the employees they have sharp.

“If the organization, in addition to whatever it does in the way of offering a good product or service, also is in the business of learning, encouraging learning at all levels, and integrating and assimilating that learning at the organizational level, that is the recipe for organizational adaptation,” said Schroeder. “And it’s that adaptation, it’s the perpetual tinkering, it’s what Jim Collins and others have talked about as the constant engineering of the organization.”

Of course, every organization is going to have its hidebound individuals who are reluctant to alter their routines and who may simply fear or resent change. To Schroeder, it’s important to make organizational changes part of an ongoing dialogue, not necessarily a disruptive force that causes undue commotion.

“It’s hard to go in one day and say, ‘Okay, now we’re going to have this really hard-hitting, frank discussion about how things are and how we’d like them to be moving forward,” said Schroeder. “I think ideally as part of the cultural fabric of the organization, we’re talking, we’re writing, we’re behaving in this kind of way, and I think it has to be approached more holistically, ultimately addressing what we aspire to be as an organization.”

If you would like to attend the May 27 IB Seminar, click here for information on registration.

Click here to sign up for the free IB ezine – your twice-weekly resource for local business news, analysis, voices, and the names you need to know. If you are not already a subscriber to In Business magazine, be sure to sign up for our monthly print edition here.