The Dangers Of The Status Quo In Retail

The Dangers Of The Status Quo In Retail

In almost every single retail workplace there is an accepted and established way of doing things. These are policies, processes, and procedures that someone developed and deemed a “best practice” along the way. Often these processes are defined when a policy is launched – sometimes the practice is updated or minimally reshaped but so frequently it is established and then forgotten and the employees are still required to follow the accountability to the letter – without question. Not updating, eliminating, or overhauling the status quo can be a very dangerous and destructive path to choose in today’s retail climate.

Screen Shot 2016-07-22 at 8.03.08 AM

Working under the umbrella of the status quo during this precarious time leads to the vast majority of employee walking around with similar “compliance zombie” mentalities. Often times, these mentalities are antiquated, limiting, and downright absurd. The status quo limits vision and innovation to such a critical level that we can’t see the benefit of our daily efforts because they are absolutely obsolete and ineffective to have any impact on today’s retail environment and customer expectation. The status quo, by definition, is extremely ubiquitous. Often times, we don’t even recognize that there are other [and significantly better] ways of doing things because the status quo is what we’ve been conditioned to follow and not question.

The new world of work presents retail organizations with challenges that require a new playbook – one that demands that leadership becomes more agile, flexible, forward thinking and bolder in its solutions.

One of the dangers of “status quo” and why so many people choose to embrace it is that it makes life SO easy! Easy to follow. Easy to excuse soft results. Easy to not take risk and just ride the line. Easy to assign blame by saying “but this is how we’ve always done it”. I see this every day and think – oy vey! Others, clearly, see this and think – phew! What others see as a predictable and safe status quo in our retail industry is, perhaps, the riskiest of all business strategies today. After all – have you seen how many retailers are reducing their store counts, laying off employees, using sales/discounting as their compelling value proposition, declaring bankruptcy or simply shuttering all operations? All of those organizations felt comfortable with the “status quo” and, in all likelihood, used it to rationalize their failure.

What Can I Do About It?

I speak about the dangers of “status quo” A LOT – and one of the questions I get, at least on a weekly basis, from various retail leaders is, “well, I am only a Regional Leader/District Leader/Department Head – what can I do about it?” My answer…everything! There are some very easy ways to support and inspire innovation and thought in your area of responsibility:

Screen Shot 2016-07-22 at 8.04.20 AM

  • If Someone Is Challenging Your Perspective On Something. Listen: Be an advocate to eliminate processes that don’t add value to the business, the employee experience, or the customer experience. Solicit and listen to ideas, suggestions, thoughts from your team and partner with others in organizations that are winning to find out what is working for them. Retail organizations inculcate us into listening and complying to their direction and perspective of the business.. We become an organization committed to execution of directives. But we speak to hiring real talent and emotionally mature and intelligent individuals. Why would we ever adopt the attitude that if someone who is smart and passionate about the the business disagrees with us, challenges us, or offers an alternative suggestions – they’re wrong (this is a HUGE warning sign of a toxic leader, by the way)!
  • Stop Clinging To Routine: This is absolutely the model by which most retail organizations and “status quo” followers operate. It is a dangerous and careless to keep to a routine or process simply because you’ve always done it that way. It leads to critical levels of complacency and objectives become blurry and unattainable. If your ideas/suggestions and opportunity call-outs are met with choruses of “that will never work,” “we can’t take that risk,” or “but they’re insisting we stick to how we’ve done it in the past” your organization is – likely – gasping for breath. Senior- and executive-level employees carefully – and usually by committee – explore the risk of different courses of action, but neglect to make a similar assessment of the risk of staying the course. “What got you here won’t get you there!” The truest assessment of today’s retail climate.

Screen Shot 2016-07-22 at 7.59.56 AM

  • Stop The “If You’re Not With Us. You’re Against Us” Mentality: Mob mentality loves the status quo – it makes us feel safe, warm, and cozy. Fitting in and believing that we will be free from ridicule and judgement. What this turns us into is a culture of “sheep”. When someone decides there is a different or better way to drive their business and impact the results in a positive way – this frequently leads to judgment, gossip, and workplace bullying. It inspires alienation, labeling, and unhealthy workplace relationships – usually by the same leaders who are supposed to be inspiring a new and better way to achieve results. People who challenge the status quo are often labeled trouble-makers, loose cannons, or malcontents. What they usually are – however – is visionary, driven, and determined to be successful. Smart and savvy retail leaders want people on their team who don’t embrace the status quo or pedestrian approach to business. That is why they are usually the top performing leaders in the organization.
  • Learn To Recognize The Status Quo & Resist The Urge To Mindlessly Support It: It’s easy to fall into accepting the status quo. It’s makes dialogs easier certainly when we say “well there’s nothing we can do about it” or “it is what it is”. The ability to become aware of why you think and act the way you do and how your thoughts and actions are affecting your life and the lives of your coworkers and understanding they will learn from you. As a retail leader, you should consider these things often and try to arrive at your own conclusions about how to lead your team and drive your business.

Screen Shot 2016-07-22 at 8.05.23 AM

  • Define What It Looks Like In Your Organization: Recruit the most driven and successful individuals in your organization and on your team and have them make a list of the most dangerous and critical processes to eliminate. Show the senior-level executive you are closest to in your company what the status quo looks like and how it’s hurting the business – and how successful an alternate way can be. Honestly, the bureaucrats/red-tape loving leaders won’t like it. They’ll – perhaps – agree to the least provocative assessments to avoid detection, but they will have lots of excuses as to why the bulk of the status quo should be followed.
  • Reward Accomplishment: Once status quo obstacles have been identified and your team is on course to overcome this business impediment. You need to reward your team member for challenging it. Identifying ways to beat the average results these processes now deliver in an ever-evolving retail landscape. Most employees will see challenging the status quo as taking an unnecessary personal risk. How can you inspire and empower them? If you don’t recognize accomplishment and the benefits of innovation and reward it – the next time you seek to elevate and change the business for the better – it will be just another one of those goofy things that you tried that will, hopefully, go away if the team ignores it.

Screen Shot 2016-07-22 at 7.59.42 AM

  • Invest In And Promote Employees Who Challenge The Status Quo: Again, in organizations that seeks to hire followers and people who will comply –  employees that seek new ways to win and achieve through challenging the status quo,  may seem like loose cannons. What will give your organization it’s best chance? Teaching your innovative and courageous employees to be future great and courageous leaders, or teaching your executives to embrace change? Who will take your business to the next level? The people who own and drive their professional success and results or the people that use “hope” as a business strategy and the status quo as an excuse for their inability to deliver greatness? I know what person I prefer on my team.


Founder and Editor in Chief of Excellence In Retail. Published writer. Frequent Podcast Guest. Speaker. Twenty year [oy vey!] retailer. I am passionate about leadership development and workplace culture. 646 246 1380 | [No Sales Contact, please} But it you want to call just to say hello or have a question - that's awesome!

View all posts by

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *