Status quo has inertia on its side

Organisations want agility, adaptability and experimentation within their operating models, but this means building new muscle memory and changing habits.

Muscle memory is one of the strongest drives forces behind organisations, as it is the power behind the people, processes, operating models and platforms which have moved the business to where it is today, so, hey, it works, right?

Greg Satell coined the title phrase of this post on his great article on the 5 immutable laws of change, and it really resonates to me, as it is this inertia (or the muscle memory of the organisation) that is behind a lot of the incumbents’ dilemma on how to innovate, embrace new business models and operating models, plus also move to more of ‘product’ approach to customer experiences.

One of the major changes over the past 18 months has been that customer habits have now changed forever. People have been undertaking their ‘jobs to be done’ for longer than 66 days using a new experience or channel. Be that digital channels for shopping every day/week, working from anywhere whilst still delivering value, using machines to undertake tasks, not just human effort and also adopted new ways of connecting with our loved ones and blurring the geographical boundaries of the world.

Yet, this also means that the way every organisation operates and ‘thinks’ should also change, but this is confronting and involves a sharp tug on the ‘steel thread’ also all the cylinders of excellence, platforms, processes, teams, strategies and technologies which created the ‘muscle’ to drive growth and performance to date.

John Cutler puts it very well in his great post this week (Quicksand vs. Challenge):

The teams were spending most of their energy battling organizational inertia. They couldn’t operate independently, thwarted by an outdated architecture that created dependencies everywhere. No access to customers. A siloed, understaffed, design org. Dozens of stakeholders. A calendar filled with song-and-dance Scrum rituals. Proxy metrics. No clear strategy. This was not a knowledge and skills issue. No team, anywhere, could do good work in those conditions.

If you haven’t experienced that flexibility and freedom, it is easy to assume that the quicksand is just “the way it is”.

This lack of muscle training to change from what you know, to new ways of operating, thinking and behaving, therefore being able to embed agility, adaptability and experimentation into your organisation is the biggest challenge for the next chapter of how we ‘build back better’ or ‘the new normal’ (still haven’t landed on a comfortable phrase for this yet, sorry).

Everything has a pattern or is part of a system, so organisations need to build new ways to train the muscles of their people, processes, platforms and customer/employee experiences, which in turn drive new outcomes that create these new habits for the ecosystem that is the organisation they lead or are part of, and this will therefore change what they see as ‘status quo’.

To change habits there are 3 steps:

Trigger/Routine/Reward

Therefore, for organisations to train the muscle in new ways or change their habits they need to, as a whole, focus on:

1/ Creating a new trigger: This about the vision, purpose, and goals of the organisation, which need to be reviewing and reimaged to create new goals which are credible, achievable, measurable, and concrete, and that inspires the organisation enough to accompany the self-motivation you need to sustain it over time. Reassessing the goals for the whole organisation, which now reflect the new realities of the world around them, is key to the first change being made towards what is valued in the organisation. This is how to break the status quo.

2/ Associate it with a positive routine: This step embeds the new habits and patterns of behaviour and activity (operating model) within the organisation. People are very good at defining “what they don’t want,” although the appropriate approach here is that you can express and feel “what you do want.” This is an extension of the goals which create a new trigger, this creates the steps that will lead to concretize (or embed) the new habits and patterns. This step needs to be progressive and focused on continuous improvement and the ‘is there a better way’ question. This creates traction to the ongoing support of the habit or new pattern.

3/ Create a reward associated with maintaining that habit or pattern: This takes us to the incentives across the organisation, what is celebrated and called out by the senior leadership and supports the new pattern and habit. Creating a ‘safe’ environment to challenge the status quo and experiment or try a new way of working which is in line with the goals and moves the whole organisation more effectively towards these. All human beings do things because they feel they are getting some benefit, the reward of the habit or new pattern, has to be challenging and tangible enough to excite everyone in the organisation, create a connection to these new habits and patterns for all, people need to see their role in embracing them, and, at the same time, fuel your mind to do it continuously.

The focus should be on creating a new pattern, on changing habits, for the organisation as a whole, from the technologies used, the processes which are codified and now automated, freeing the people to experiment and think creatively about problems/solutions and ultimately building muscle which is ‘future ready’ not maintaining an outdated status quo.

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