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Organizational Change: Continuous Quality Improvement and the Risk of Maintaining Status Quo

continuous improvement

By: Scott Jessup

Change is important for any organization because, without change, businesses would likely lose their competitive edge and fail to meet the needs of their customers as well as their own business goals. Today’s rapidly-evolving economic environment not only expects change, it demands it.

However, there’s a big challenge staring organizational change and continuous quality improvement right in the face – status quo. Inertia. The comfort of not doing anything different. But there are risks associated with maintaining status quo and management teams routinely underestimate them. 

Organizational change requires decisive action and that can be very uncomfortable for some executive leaders. There’s perceived safety in not rocking the boat. But just because management may not like change or fails to analyze the risk of maintaining status quo does not mean risk is not present. Risk may be lurking just below the surface of status quo, unrecognized, leaving management inadequately prepared to meet that risk when it finally raises its ugly head and turns into a full-blown problem. 

Meaningful organizational change starts with tackling inertia and the urge for inaction head on. And that starts, as all good business planning does, with what the customers want. Framing internal conversations around changing customer preferences forces an examination of current business processes and policies which inevitably leads to discussions on how to change those processes and policies to benefit the customer. This now becomes part of your overall continuous quality improvement plan. 

It’s important not to underestimate risk. Examine a status quo strategy as well as all organizational change options for brand risk, operational risk, market risk, and any other risk that may be associated with your business, industry, and marketplace. Get them all out in the open and take a good, hard look at them. Clearly understanding all the risks involved will go a long way in identifying and removing objections to change.

A classic stalling strategy used by some to stave off organizational change is the “need for more information.” If some stakeholders are making endless requests for more data or more opinions, establish decision-making triggers by asking such questions as, “What specifically do we need to know to make an informed decision?” Establishing clear criteria for decision-making is a highly effective way to squash indecisiveness.  

Once you have stakeholder buy-in, it’s time to manage organizational change to help minimize risk:

1. Envision the change Lay out the specifics of any organizational change and picture the ideal state of the organization after change is implemented. A company and its workforce can be fragile during the transition, so ensure that there are clear signs of stability in a few key areas such as personnel, mission, and other elements that define the organization. 

2. Communicate Understand how change affects different areas and levels of the organization and begin a dialogue with employees. Effectively communicate the need for change and the benefits associated with it. It’s enormously helpful to have everyone on board and rowing in the same direction. 

3. Maintain order Any change should be implemented in an orderly manner. Nothing will dishearten and sour a workforce faster than lack of order and chaos. Draw up a change plan, allocate all the necessary resources needed to affect that change, and appoint the most capable person to manage it all.

Change is natural, but then so is maintaining status quo. Recognize which comes with less risk (or greater reward) and then pursue that course. Be aware, though, that status quo generates its own gravitational force that can make it difficult to break free and chart a new, more successful and profitable course for your company.