“Never Underestimate the Magnitude of the Forces that Reinforce Complacency and Help Maintain the Status Quo.”

“Never Underestimate the Magnitude of the Forces that Reinforce Complacency and Help Maintain the Status Quo.”

There’s alot of wisdom in this quote from this quote from John P. Kotter’s book, Leading Change.

Much– and maybe too much – has been written about change and the resistance to it.

Why don’t people just do what they are supposed to do?

Why do they do that?

Why don’t they just…

I’ve heard these questions raised from many leaders brought on to change ‘sleepy’ organizations. After having introduced all the right tools and ’empowered’ people, communicated the importance of change, encouraged people to step up, step out they are truly frustrated. Why do things move so slowly or fail to change? Why isn’t their message being embraced?

Kotter points to invisible forces that speaks to their frustrations hiding in plain sight. So what are those forces?

The forces that reinforce complacency and help maintain the status quo are found in the way the organization has historically behaved. Links have been formed and joined into a chain we call ‘culture‘.   Leaders who find and unbind people from these culture chains make faster progress than those who miss this step.

The links were formed by the way the organization has trained employees every day, not in the training room, but in how it’s leadership has responded to them over time, before the new leader came on board to effect change.

Employees and their performance are the product of how mistakes were dealt with.Were they punished or rewarded? Who was rewarded and who wasn’t? Employees and their performance are the product of the level of competence, sophistication and work style preferences of those who have managed them. How were differences of opinions handled? Were differences encouraged or seen as insubordination? Was conflict to be avoided so to keep superficial order or was it dealt with, productively? Did they live in a top down world where they were only required to follow direction and not take initiative?

Regardless of what the official org chart says about how things flow and who reports to who, there is another , unofficial org chart and it’s powerful. That chart connects the links in their real world, forming ‘territories’ and ‘camps’ which either encouraged or discouraged things like taking initiative, being proactive, communicating and collaborating. It defined their roles and responsibilities which could differ considerably from their job descriptions.

There’s a magic word, an acid that can dissolve the links and ultimately snap the chain, used earlier. That word is ‘why?” What happens is the question is asked but the objective exploration for the answer to it doesn’t always happen. It’s often just a rhetorical question. “Why” requires pursuit which can take time up front and we often don’t want to expend that time. We want to find another strategy or we render decisions about people and their motives that take us to wrong conclusions.

Lay it out there.

“This is what was. This is what was needed. These tools were provided for you. This is what I expected would happen (or you would have done). I’ve obviously missed something. Help me know why what I expected didn’t happen and what obstacles or barriers have to be removed so that you can meet these expectations in the future.”

It isn’t always complacency or that people won’t; it’s often that they can’t due to those invisible but real chains. “Why” is a powerful and freeing word. Use it to find and dissolve old links and break chains that hold people and the organization back.

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