What holds our organization back?

by Sam on October 19, 2010

There is a tide in the affairs of men
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.

~William Shakespeare

One-Minute Answer: Every company I’ve worked with was sitting on a gold mine of opportunity—a tide which taken at the flood could lead to fortune. I see that opportunity presenting itself almost in the form of chains that if broken would propel those clients to unimagined prosperity.

Why do they need me? To get more metaphors in here, they can’t see the forest for the trees. They’re too close to their drama to be liberated from it. What they see as not-so-bad everyday aspects of doing business I see as unnecessary and intolerable roadblocks, often erected by the very managers who have called me in.

So I help them identify the barriers to success and they’re on their way to success. Right? Wrong! There’s one more hill—really a mountain—to climb. Call it denial, defensiveness, or complacency. Whatever the source, there is sometimes a stubborn resistance to come to the realization that Pogo gave us: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

As a reader of “Ask Sam Deep”, it’s a pretty good bet that you’re open to self-examination on behalf of your organization. Have at it!

Five-Minute Answer: These are the barriers that a number of clients have identified over the years, often in the same words they used. As you go through the lists check off the “dirty dozen”—the 12 most formidable barriers to your organization’s success. I’ll tell you what to do next, when you get to the bottom of the list.

Corporate Leadership

  • No clear unified vision, direction, or end game
  • No widely embraced strategy for achieving our vision
  • Can’t distinguish between the important and the urgent; haven’t decided what not to do
  • Get too lean in bad times, too fat in good times
  • Top management out of touch with what happens in the shop
  • Top leaders in the weeds rather than strategic
  • Fail to leverage mergers and acquisition

Corporate Culture

  • Negative feedback goes to others rather than to the person who needs to hear it
  • Twenty-four hour culture; crisis mentality; fire-fighting; reactive
  • No consistent culture
  • Too much CYA; fear
  • Our fire has gone out; no sense of urgency
  • Focused on what’s good for ourselves rather than on what benefits the site
  • Too few people taking responsibility for making decisions

Personal Leadership

  • Not holding people accountable
  • Lack of clear expectations
  • Managers enforce more than they inspire
  • Problem performers not addressed; no consequences for poor work
  • Managing too close to the vest; not enough delegation and empowerment
  • Our great doers never learned how to be great leaders of less-than-great doers

Customer Intimacy

  • Customers don’t know all the things we can do for them
  • Customers don’t know how they need to behave in order to be served well
  • No idea what customers think of us
  • Too little attention paid to customer relationships
  • Poor scores on customer service assessments
  • Low customer retention


  • Lack of communication and collaboration across geographically dispersed sites
  • Damaged relationships not addressed
  • Sales and Procurement seemingly working at cross-purposes
  • We hide in our silos
  • Lack of support for each other; turf battles
  • Don’t understand or have empathy for each other’s key issues
  • Cross-generational suspicion and misunderstanding
  • Criticize each other more than celebrate


  • Too many duplicative reports
  • Too many duplicative meetings
  • Inundated with email from too many “cc’s”
  • Too many regulations and red tape of our own doing
  • Don’t benchmark best practices from other sites


  • Short-staffed
  • People are burned out; feel unappreciated
  • Little career progression
  • Don’t do a good job of hiring “A players”
  • Ignore development of emerging leaders
  • Haven’t figured out how to fully engage our people
  • Haven’t the right competences in right places; haven’t upgraded critical skill sets
  • Haven’t yet fully leveraged technology
  • Don’t seize transformational investment opportunities

Breakthrough! As you chose your 12 from the list you may have wondered which ones others in your organization would check. That gets us to the next steps. 1. Show this list (without your ratings) to your team. 2. Discuss it and give them opportunity to add to the list. 3. Have all of you choose the top 12 barriers, perhaps with the enhancement of picking a first and a second place barrier plus another ten. 4. Total the votes received by each barrier with first-places counting as three and second-places counting as two. 5. Highlight the top five or six prioritized barriers. You may want to combine similar barriers as you do this. 6. Commit to specific action plans assigned to team members. 7. Follow up once a month on progress.

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