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“Challenging our status quo will make the most significant contribution to my organisation’s success in the next 3 years”

Olivier Herold

13 August 2020

Our team attended a really engaging digital HR/L&D Summit recently and asked the assembled senior HR and L&D professionals what they thought would make the biggest contribution to future success in their business. I love the fact that “challenging our status quo” came out on top, well ahead of seemingly more obvious choices such as “creating conditions for innovation” or “strong leadership and talent community and pipeline”.

I love it because, as we all have acutely experienced over the past months, real change starts with us being open to challenging the status quo at both organisational and personal levels. I’ve certainly had to challenge myself to significantly question my own status quo before I could invite my colleagues and teams to question our usual way of shaping our company’s future. 

Like most CEOs, I’ve learnt much from the world in recent months. My default reactions have shown up and some of them have been challenged. I’ve felt the pull of some familiar behaviours and habits and learnt the value of challenging them. This last week, I’ve personally felt the full range of emotions of fear, anger, joy, guilt and sadness in short bursts and in strange combinations.

After a while, I started to recognize that as a CEO if I wanted to reduce stress, overwhelming anxiety or tiredness while still engaging people’s attention on building the future, I had to constantly find the right balance between stimulus and safety.  I had to shake up some of my familiar patterns. This was exciting and uncomfortable in equal measure. 

What made a difference for me was adding ‘space’ into the mix. Creating the right, dynamic balance between space, psychological safety and intellectual and commercial stimulus has been key as I lead our business into the new landscape ahead. While I naturally seek stability, I also need and value challenge. So challenging the status quo to me means keeping what works and changing what can be better. I need roots. I also need wings. 

What’s helped this happen?

  • Relationships - both personal and professional. Through the regular check-ins with our clients, our people and our coaches and consultants, I was motivated and reassured by how many of them shared about their curiosity, their new learning experiences, their excitement, or confidence in the future.  
  • Inner resources – drawing on that bank of knowledge and capabilities built up over many years, intuition and wisdom, thinking and problem-solving abilities. It’s helpful to remind ourselves about the internal resources we have at our disposal already, which we can add to or apply to the business current context in novel ways to address the challenges we are facing. They are key to leaders being anchored in firm ground amidst the challenges we set ourselves up to handle.
  • Different voices and resources – consciously seeking out voices that aren’t always heard, looking for new perspectives, being ready to confront and explore the unfamiliar. Learning from new sources of thinking. 
  • Habits – the things that we do routinely to support and nourish ourselves, many of which we can continue to draw on – maybe it’s exercise, family time, favourite things, maybe it’s books, films, music, knitting or other mindful activities. Find what works for you. 
  • Space – building in reflective space, even if it’s 30 minutes once a week. No agenda, no goals, no content, just free space to acknowledge what’s going on, let my mind open up to what’s possible. We know from neuroscience that this kind of space matters when we need to create something new and I can say for sure that’s been true for me. It’s a paradox – the less I can see where that space could be in my diary, the more I know I need it.  

The main benefit I have discovered in this journey, is that “Challenging our personal status quo” can result in significant personal growth, especially when we can use a constraint as a means to discover new ways of seeing and new ways of engaging.  

For example, as I started to engage with my colleagues and teams only virtually, I really missed that face to face contact. I felt I was missing out on some of the unexpected insights and serendipity which pop up from those corridor conversations. Now I’ve experienced that in a well-led virtual environment, frequent, short, randomly generated break-out groups truly create new combinations of people in conversation and can open up new collaborations – actually, maybe more efficiently than when you end up choosing familiar groups to engage during social breakouts or for a particular assignment. 

As I said, real change starts with us. As I gave myself permission to harvest the benefits of engaging mostly virtually in the professional sphere, as I’ve grown my own comfort zone right there, right now, I could more powerfully invite my colleagues and teams to question what the future of learning and delivering may look like. 

Gathering from our own experience and also from the insightful experiences of our clients and our people, our coaches and consultants, we’re now defining a 2025 vision and creating a strategy for The Oxford Group which will allow us to accompany the paradigm shift towards a more virtualized world and thus to continue to deliver our purpose well into the future. 

Now I would love to hear your stories about challenging your status quo. What supports you doing it? How are you or your organization growing?