Creating the Culture to Break Barriers!

Cultural barriers
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In my experience when you embark on driving any kind of Game Changing Transformation you will most likely also need to break barriers and change behaviours if not the Culture.  As the saying goes, “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results”.  So in order to get different results you may have to break through barriers and drive different behaviours from what are inherent in the current Culture.

Your organization is an ecosystem of policies, practices, processes and procedures that are the result of decisions, beliefs and  behaviours.  Over time much of this generally gets accepted as the way it’s always been done and is not open to challenge or to change.  Therein sacred cows, whether real or perceived, can become obstacles to making the changes needed to derive different results from the status quo.

Having your Call to Action in Place, A Project Name and mandate, and a Holistic Approach are critical.  But the “X” factor that you also need to have a strategy for is Cultural Change.

Herein are some of the approaches and techniques I have found highly  effective in creating the Cultural Change that you need in order to achieve the Game Changing results you are after.  This will often lead to remarkable and surprising achievements as you break through barriers that many thought previously impossible.

Change Leaders Not Managers

In selecting the people to either lead and/or be members of your team I recommend picking those who are Change agents, or who have the intellect, enthusiasm, coach-ability and energy to be Change agents.  These people must be able to think outside the box and challenge the status quo.  The messages, approach and demeanour that you need to create your transformation will be cascaded down in to the culture of your organization through these Change Leaders.

Breakthrough transformation

You need everyone to become Ambassadors of Change.  And your team must lead from the front.  This will then translate to changing the DNA within your Culture which in turn will help you get the results you are looking for and break barriers.

Process Based Focus

By focussing your analysis and improvements on the core processes you are addressing you can look at the situation more objectively.  A process focus allows you to see past the false and perceived issues and get to the details of what is really happening.  I have seen many Kaizen events wherein the act of mapping the Current state business process is completely illuminating to those in the Kaizen because they didn’t really understand what did or did not happen.

In mapping out the processes you also make steps toward neutralizing the personalities and any defensiveness at play.  It also helps get everyone invested in and aligned on what a Future state process map will look like.  Further a Process based approach sets you up to achieving long term, sustainable results, and not just a one time, non-repetitive achievement.

On the Field Behaviour

A Sports analogy works best here.  When you are trying to lead and drive change where do you want to be?  Do you want to be on the field and in the game helping the team progress and score?  Or do you want to be in the stands cheering, booing, and reporting on what is happening on the field? The answer is obvious.  And being on the field, whether that means being on the Manufacturing floor, in an Office, in a Distribution Centre, or in a Store, will give you phenomenal credibility by showing that you are willing to roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty.

Whenever your Project involves multiple operations or facilities I have found that it is enormously beneficial to go to those locations throughout your Project.  Working with employees on their own turf is true “On the Field” Behaviour.  While time and expense won’t always allow for this kind of travel, even if you can do this once the benefits of face to face contact, relationship building, alignment, and understanding of the issues and direction will pay back ten times over in the future.

Embrace the Possibilities

When all is said and done you can’t avoid death and you can’t avoid taxes.  EVERYTHING else can be changed! It is this mindset that must be at the epicentre of the Culture that you need to drive truly Game Changing Transformation and Results!

There are many people who will either tell you that changes can’t be made or that they don’t know how to make the necessary changes.  You have to get people past this disbelief or lack of experience with change.

A common technique is to ask “Why?” five times when trying to understand why things are done a certain way.  Once you get past “because that’s the way we’ve always done it” and “it can’t be changed”, and a few other blockade type answers, with few exceptions you will find that there many things which can be changed just by exhausting the defenses as to why things are done a certain way.

Another motivator is benchmarking. If you have a competitor who is performing better in some aspect of the business, then why can’t your company be just as good, if not better, than the competition?  Are they really smarter or have they just done a better job at challenging the paradigms of what can and can’t be done?   Having a precedent is a powerful reality check as to what is possible.

Set Stretch Targets

I have found that it is always good to set stretch targets, well beyond the reach of what others may see as possible.  Setting mediocre goals will yield incremental results at best.

Stretch targets should make you and your team  uncomfortable.  If they don’t then they aren’t really stretch targets.  Many times I’ve seen employees look at me in disbelief when I set some seemingly outrageous target.  But once you have the target set, it does cause people to really step up and think outside of the box in a way which incremental targets do not.

Top of the Mountain Approach

An effective visualization technique is to imagine that you have already achieved your goal.  In effect you are standing on top of the mountain looking down at the path you took to get there.  You can see the steps you had to take in order to arrive at the top.  This can really help shape your thinking as to what needs to be accomplished.

Otherwise you are standing at the bottom of the mountain looking up.  Speaking from my real life experience, when you are standing at the bottom of the mountain you can never see the whole path you need to take; at best you can see a certain number of steps ahead.  Changing your vantage point through visualization can shape your project direction immeasurably.

Results Orientation

You can not tell your investors that your missed your Revenue or Growth or Cash or Profit goals but you tried really hard and that should be ok.  You won’t last long in your job with that approach.  You and your organization must be Results Oriented.

I believe that most employees do put in a lot of effort and try hard to do their jobs every day.  But when you are looking for transformative results you need people to not only put in the effort but they need to deliver results.  Everyone needs a “Will Do” attitude.

There will be a myriad of tasks that need to be completed and results that need to be achieved in order to accomplish your overall project objective.  This will require that people at all levels are making promises to meet those commitments.

You may also need to change the culture from one of acceptance of poor performance to one that rests at nothing short of exceptional performance.  This does require a distinction between those who are not trying from those who are but who need your support in getting past hurdles.

Another consideration in ensuring that all of your actions will get you to your results is to ask, for each of these actions, if they are “necessary” and “sufficient”.  “Are these actions necessary?” is a test as to whether you are working on the right things.  “Are these actions sufficient?” is a test as to whether you are working on enough of the right things.

Communicate … Often!

At all levels of your company you need to ensure that there is communication on progress.  People at all levels want to understand the status, what the issues and barriers are, what needs to be addressed, any changes in direction, recognition, and reinforcement of the Goal and the Call to Action.

It is also important to include examples in your communications.  Wherever you have successes in tackling sacred cows, breaking barriers and changing the status quo make this visible.  Explain how these long standing beliefs and processes were changed.  This will give people motivation from knowing that things can be changed and the confidence of knowing that they will be supported.  Momentum will build from this and success will breed success.


You can not let your Project move along at its own pace … you need to set the pace.  This requires frequent review of metrics, issues and direction setting with all of your team members.

This is also critical to ensure that those in your Culture are both empowered and accountable.  As the overall goal is set, and the underlying target metrics established to hit the overall goal, you will be looking for your team members, and various people and functions in the organization, to make promises to  hit these results.  These promises are commitments which merits a higher standard in accountability then may normally exist in your company.

Breaking Barriers

In many projects I have tackled I have found that just driving process improvements and pressing on metrics will only get you so far.  To really break through barriers and get Game Changing results a critical focus area in your Project has to be based on making Cultural Change.  You will be amazed at how a focus on Cultural Change will not only make your Project more successful but it will  make your company stronger and your employees stronger.

Depending upon your situation you may find that some or all of these techniques are appropriate at a particular point in time to break Barriers.  Always remember that ANYTHING can be changed and Embrace The Possibilities!

Originally published February 9, 2017.