5 ways for executives to break the status quo in mature organisations

In an era of rapid technological evolution, volatile markets and increasing pressure for corporate social responsibility, sticking to tried-and-true business strategies can be a recipe for stagnation. The need for mature organisations to break away from the status quo has become increasingly urgent. Here are five strategies that executives can employ to invigorate their organisations with innovative ideas or shift away from toxic or underperforming cultures.

1. Replace data-driven decision making with evidence based decision frameworks

  • Link cause and effect: Traditional data-driven decisions can overlook crucial cause-and-effect relationships. Evidence-based decision frameworks help connect the dots, identifying the root causes that drive the data. This in-depth understanding enables executives to address issues at their source, creating more effective and sustainable solutions.
  • Distinguish between data and evidence: It is important to differentiate between raw data and evidence. While data is just an isolated piece of information, evidence is data placed in context. By interpreting data within a broader framework, executives can make more informed decisions that are grounded in a comprehensive understanding of the situation.
  • Critically review KPIs for conflicts of interest: Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) can sometimes encourage counterproductive behaviour, as employees aim to achieve specific numbers at the expense of broader organisational goals. By critically reviewing KPIs for potential conflicts of interest, executives can ensure that these measures genuinely support the company’s objectives.
  • Follow the scientific method: By adopting a scientific approach to decision-making, executives can base their decisions on rigorous, evidence-based analysis. This entails defining the problem, formulating a hypothesis, collecting and interpreting data, and then refining the hypothesis based on the findings.

2. Abandon the default to consensus decision making

In the interest of fairness and inclusion, many organisations favour consensus decision-making. While this approach has its merits, it can also lead to ‘groupthink.’ Groupthink is a psychological phenomenon where the desire for harmony and conformity in a group leads to an irrational or dysfunctional decision-making. It often discourages creativity and individual responsibility, causing members to suppress oppositional viewpoints in favour of consensus. This can result in poor decision quality as the group may ignore alternative solutions or fail to critically analyse the chosen course of action.

  • Establish a decision-making method upfront: Before starting the decision-making process, decide on the method to be used.
  • Promote a culture of disagreement: Foster an environment where diverse opinions and innovative ideas are welcomed and encouraged. If your teams or people that you lead rarely disagree or provide differing opinions, this should be a red flag.

By shifting away from consensus decision making, you can also accelerate the process and respond to changes more swiftly.

3. Delegate decision rights to external experts

The conventional top-down decision-making model can limit the flow of innovative ideas and is also highly prone to confirmation bias and groupthink. By encouraging decision makers to delegate their decision rights in certain scenarios to external experts, executives can fundamentally challenge the dynamics of decision making. Involving external experts allows for:

  • Access to specialised knowledge: External experts often possess specialised knowledge or skills that may not exist within the organisation. Their expertise can provide valuable insights and perspectives that enhance the quality of decision-making.
  • Objective perspective: External experts can provide an impartial viewpoint free from internal politics, bias, or preconceived notions. This objectivity can help organisations see situations more clearly and make more balanced decisions.
  • Experience across different industries or markets: External experts often have experience working with multiple companies across diverse industries or markets. They can bring a wider perspective to problem-solving and decision making, helping organisations to see new possibilities or solutions.

4. Embed anonymity in feedback and decision making processes

Anonymity can be a powerful tool for encouraging honest feedback and varied opinions. By anonymising feedback, executives can ensure that employees feel safe in voicing their views without fear of retribution. Anonymous decision-making processes can help to eliminate biases and promote more objective decision making.

  • Eliminates bias: Anonymous decision-making helps to remove personal bias or prejudice, ensuring decisions are made on the merit of ideas rather than the person proposing them.
  • Promotes honest opinions: Anonymity encourages individuals to express their true thoughts and ideas without fear of reprisal or judgement, leading to a more genuine and diverse pool of viewpoints.
  • Boosts participation: People who may be hesitant to voice their opinions publicly might be more likely to contribute if they can do so anonymously. This can increase participation and lead to a wider range of ideas.
  • Reduces power dynamics: In a hierarchical organisation, junior members may feel pressured to align their views with those of senior members. Anonymous decision-making levels the playing field and allows all voices to be heard equally.
  • Encourages critical evaluation: When decisions are made anonymously, team members are more likely to critically evaluate ideas since they are not influenced by the proposer’s status or reputation. This leads to more robust and well-scrutinised decisions.

5. Establish shadow boards and parallel test decisions

A shadow board is a group of non-executive employees who work parallel to the company’s executive board. Shadow boards are often comprised of younger employees, and they serve as an advisory body providing fresh perspectives on strategic matters, thus diversifying the viewpoints that influence decision-making processes.

Shadow boards play an instrumental role in fostering inclusivity, breaking down hierarchies, and promoting innovation within an organisation. They also serve as an excellent platform for leadership development, as members get a hands-on experience of strategic management, while the existing leadership gains insight into the groups’ viewpoints and concerns. For this reason

we recommend taking shadow boards a step further by including:

  • Equal gender representation: A gender-balanced board or committee not only fosters diversity of thought but also represents a broader range of perspectives. This balance is vital in addressing potential gender bias in decision-making and driving more inclusive outcomes.
  • First nations peoples: Including First Nations peoples in decision-making processes can provide valuable insights based on their unique cultural perspectives and experiences. This inclusive approach promotes a more comprehensive understanding of the communities in which the organisation operates.
  • People with diverse education and experience backgrounds: Diversifying the educational backgrounds of decision-makers can enrich the pool of ideas. For example, a scientist can offer a unique perspective on marketing decisions, while a legal expert can provide a different angle on engineering problems.

Why not try implementing the board’s decision in one area and the shadow board’s in another and comparing the learnings together.


Breaking away from the status quo requires bold leadership and a willingness to embrace new ways of thinking. By implementing these strategies, executives can inject fresh ideas into their organisations, foster diversity of thought, and drive their companies towards a future that is not bound by the constraints of the past.



Davenport, T. H., & Kirby, J. (2015). Just How Smart Are Smart Machines?. MIT Sloan Management Review, 56(3), 21–25.Nixon, B., & Dawson, G. (2018). Deciding How to Decide: The Importance of Objective Decision-Making. The Journal for Quality and Participation, 41(3), 16–22.Carnes, M., & Hedin, S. (2020). Why a Shadow Board Could Make Sense for Your Company. Harvard Business Review.