Identifying barriers to improvement is typically one of those "touchy" areas that can produce some rather vigorous discussion. This is usually because companies either don't understand the things that drive improvement and have embarked on ill thought out programs or because a team or company mandate around improvement does not align with the company culture. They talk the talk but don't walk the walk. In either case these things are usually not deliberate but still hard to swallow when you realize that your actions and programs may have had the opposite effect you were looking for. Let’s look at a couple of examples that I am sure many of you will be familiar with.
Safety has undergone a dramatic and much needed overhaul across almost every industry sector in the last couple of decades. Many great advances have been made in this area and for anyone who has been around to see the transition it is pretty impressive. Yet I run into many barriers that counter-act those well meaning intentions in the work that I have done with companies. The Safety Bonus is my favorite.
Great idea right? Hey if the crew operates safely each day or week or month (fill in the blank) they get a well deserved bonus. Safety is one of those programs that requires a continuous improvement mindset yet more often than not the concept of safety bonuses is a barrier to improvement rather than a driver of it.
In one company the safety bonus in fact drove reporting of safety incidents down. No one wanted to be the person who had a safety incident that would result in the crew losing their bonus for that day. Rather than having a rich data base of events from which to drive innovation and improvement very few events were reported and safety tended to be a hit or miss thing - pardon the pun. The company figured this out and began to implement a host of regulations around the policy in an attempt to plug the holes they kept finding. Soon they had a program which had started with the best of intentions but yet failed to deliver the performance they were looking looking for.
Right up there with safety programs is the whole "openness and accountability" program. Openness and accountability are key elements of continuous improvement but these programs often struggle or fail to take root on a team or in a company because the "talk and walk" don't match. For example, its pretty hard to get staff to be open and accountable for performance in a "one strike" setting or in a setting that does not invite vulnerability. There may be no such thing as a stupid question but believe me there are a million ways to respond to questions that will ensure that questioner never raises their hand again. Ridicule, feigned interest with no follow up, platitudes, impatience or just plain indifference are all excellent ways to put up great big barriers to improvement.
Openness and accountability are not just catch phrases they are an invitation to your team or staff to become vulnerable and get involved in working with you in achieving the bottom line. It is an invitation to have them engage because you deem them as valuable. If you are not 100% behind an initiative of this kind then please try something else. The most finely tuned sense in the work force is the BS meter. Continuous improvement and change management often hit road blocks because staff have been burned by this kind of "program" in the past, are highly skeptical and for good reason.
These are a couple of my favorite barriers to improvement but there are many out there. Your job is to make sure you know the lay of the land, analyze the potential pitfalls and barriers and remove them. Start with a mirror and move outward from there.