Why is the status quo so hard to change?

“It can’t be done.” So said Director of Operations, Wally as we discussed how to increase capacity in anticipation of the projected surge in demand in the next year. “Employees will never accept a fourth shift. They won’t be willing to change their schedules. They won’t. I asked them and they told me.” Strategic goals are strategic because they change the status quo. Why is it so hard in practice to actually implement truly strategic goals?

Any time you endeavor to change things there’s a risk involved and the potential for loss. Loss carries two to five times the impact as a gain. When there is fear of the unknown, people have a tendency to bunker down… hold their ground. That’s one reason why changing the status quo can’t be accomplished with the heroic effort of just one person. It takes the sustained effort of a team.

clip_image005The Hawaiians speak of a “crab-pot mentality”. When Hawaiian fisherman go crabbing, they simply throw the crabs they catch into a bucket. While you might wonder why the crabs don’t crawl out of the bucket, the Hawaiians learned long ago that there was no danger of that. Whenever one crab reaches the lip of the bucket and starts to crawl out, the other crab grabs it seeking their own escape and, ultimately, pull the leader back into the pot. While Hawaiians often criticize themselves for having this “crab-pot mentality,” it seems to be pretty fundamentally human.


We’ve all seen examples of this in the workplace. One person gets a bright idea for making things better and right away everyone gets busy saying why it will never work. And so there everyone stays… hopelessly stuck in the status quo like crabs in a bucket. Picture instead one crab making it over the top and pulling all his cheering team with him.

In the end, the Executive Team identified the myriad of concerns with regards to implementing a fourth shift. The action plan for implementation fully engaged the employees impacted by the change. The company dealt honestly with employees’ real and perceived negatives. Once the changes in operating schedules were made employees fell in love with it. (Heaven help the company if they were to suggest returning to the old schedule.)

Its unlikely that changing the status quo can be done in isolation by one heroic individual or department. It usually requires sustained effort across the entire company. The Executive Team needs to be on the same page, communicate their vision for the future, and to sustain implementation. For insight on how to do this review the first two chapters on strategic business planning and implementation in Business Expert Guide to Small Business Success.

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