Getting over ‘status quo bias’: how to convince people that change is worth it

One of the biggest barriers to change that an organisation can face is ‘status quo bias’, or a preference for the current state of affairs. Status quo bias is a behavioural phenomenon. But it’s also a physiological response — our brains have to work harder to accept change, and usually prefer the easier option of keeping things as they are.

The more difficult the decision we face (for example, to undergo an organisational transformation), the more likely we are not to act. This isn’t our fault: it’s just how our brains are wired. It takes less mental effort to stick with things as they are. We’re more comfortable with conserving our mental effort than expending it to make difficult — or different — decisions.

First, never underestimate the power of inertia. Second, that power can be harnessed.

Richard H. Thaler

From ‘Nudge: Improving decisions about health, wealth, and happiness’

Channel support from people with influence

Getting people to support a culture change project in an organisation often takes time and effort. They need to be convinced that the effort they put into stepping away from the status quo will benefit them and their organisation in the long run. They need to understand and accept that their working life will become simpler if they invest in the change.

Leading by example is a highly effective way to get people on board with a change effort, and is likely to be most powerful if it comes from the top. People are far more likely to respond positively when the CEO or Board enthusiastically communicate to staff that they’re fully behind a change, and show them evidence of the positive outcomes they foresee coming from the change. In this scenario, people are also more likely to be willing to challenge the status quo.

But what if your leaders are reluctant?

What if you’re an employee in an organisation where you see poor writing having a negative effect on business? Your best bet to achieve change would be to enlist support from your organisation’s leaders. But they may be too busy to want to consider change, or unconvinced that it’s needed.

You’re unlikely to be able to single-handedly overcome any status quo bias on your own — although never say never!

Under these circumstances, you’ll need to create a compelling reason for your organisation to change its writing culture. You’ll have to put together a business case for your leaders (and eventually other staff) to convince them to invest their energies in a change project.

Creating a compelling business reason for change is a powerful way to get your plans for change noticed. By using a strategic approach, you can link plain language to your organisation’s reason for existence and plan ways to show a clear return on investment (ROI).

Check out the resources in Rewrite — the only handbook you need to overcome inertia and get started.

Read our blog: 3 ways to ‘nudge’ organisations

Read more about status quo bias in Nudge

Challenge the status quo to set change in motion
Challenge the status quo to set change in motion
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