In recent years, I have had problems with my shoulders. Bony spurs have appeared, which impinge on some muscles, creating pain and weakness in equal measure. As the specialist kindly put it, “Stuart, it’s a sign of growing up!”

Organizational beliefs, habits, and mind-sets can ossify in a similar way to my shoulders. In any relatively mature organization, you must look for and tackle these points of inertia, cut away the bony spurs of resistance, and free up your joints so that you can continue to painlessly move with ease and speed.

But what are the environmental forces that create roadblocks to your organization’s speed and agility? Here are five of the most common and most intrusive cultural roadblocks that I have come across.

  1. Passive Resistance.

    The Managing Director of a retail business once charged me with developing a new store format strategy for the business. Try as I might, and despite public statements of support, I struggled to gain the support of the buying teams to create the ranges and displays for these new formats, which, unsurprisingly, failed to achieve the sales growth targets we had set. It was only over 12 months later, when the Trading EVP left the business, that he finally told me that he hadn’t really believed the strategy was the best way forward and had made sure the resources weren’t made available. Passive resistance, if unchecked, can fatally damage the delivery of any project or strategy, and, as I’ve learned to my cost, must be tackled head-on. What pockets of “passive resistance” exist in your organization, and what actions are you taking to tackle them head-on? 

  2. Fear of Failure.

    At one major UK company I worked with the CEO would publicly lambast his directors and managers in executive meetings for their mistakes. He was a talented manager who knew his business inside out, but his behavior put a stranglehold on the company’s energy and pace. As a result, instead of moving their initiatives forward at pace, even the most senior managers would only take the next step once the CEO had approved it. Ironically, the CEO complained that no one would make a decision and that everything in the company happened so slowly, but the root cause of the jam was the environment of fear that his own behavior had created. What behaviors are causing a fear of failure in your organization?

  3. The Planning and Analysis Reflex.

    While some organizations like to shoot first and ask questions later other organizations are quite different. Often driven by a fear of failure, managers analyze every decision in great detail, looking at things from various angles and making sure that they understand all the risks and potential pitfalls before pressing the “go” button. In my experience, these analytical default behaviors are most prevalent in organizations where scientists, accountants, and lawyers form a major part of the leadership team. What level of analysis is required before taking action on new ideas in your organization, and, if present, what is driving the analytical reflex?

  4. “My Agenda” Trumps “Our Agenda.”

    At one of my corporate clients, country managers had only implemented 50 percent of the company’s recent product innovations because they did not believe they were relevant to their local markets. They may have been right or wrong, but the lack of delivery of the corporate agenda significantly impeded the business in achieving its growth acceleration ambitions. These managers’ resistance wasn’t passive, but the creation of two different sets of priorities and agendas meant that the business failed to drive the growth its leadership desired. What steps have you taken to ensure that managers’ agendas are in line with your corporate priorities?

  5. Low Review Cadence.

    In cycling, cadence represents the pedaling rate of the rider. The greater the revolutions of the pedals, the higher the cadence. Cyclists look to increase their cadence in order to improve results. Pace and cadence are inextricably linked in business as well as cycling. If you are reviewing results quarterly, you will only get infrequent improvements to performance. The businesses that move the quickest are those that have the fastest and most effective review and feedback systems. What is the frequency and style of the reviews of your organization’s most important initiatives and activities?

If you can tackle these roadblocks head-on, you can rapidly increase the ability of your organization to be both first and the fastest to adapt to changes in your market.

© Stuart Cross 2016. All rights reserved.