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KaiNexus Blog

Everything Continuous Improvement


What Are Some Common Barriers to Improvement and Innovation?

Posted by Mark Graban

Mar 25, 2015 7:23:00 AM

driveimprovementbehaviorsWhen we host our KaiNexus webinars, we always ask attendees for feedback, including what went well and what could be improved. 

We also ask this question: "What is your biggest challenge related to innovation and improvement?" The answers are pretty consistent and there are a few general themes, but learning more about what our audience is thinking helps us plan future webinars that can help them solve those problems. Here are some of the answers we got to that question in our most recent webinar "How to Drive Improvement Behaviors to Increase Performance Gains" (click here to watch it now).


The general theme of "leadership buy in" or "getting leaders on board" with continuous improvement is a consistently high-ranking concern.

One attendee said:

"Convincing Senior Managers to take a chance, engage their employees and risk small failures. The lack of any front line staff involvement in continuous improvement frustrates me EVERY DAY."

We hear you. That frustrates many people.

Another person described their challenge as:

"Getting leadership to focus on all areas of behavior changes and having all silos follow the same rules."

We agree that leadership needs to be involved, but they also need to demonstrate the right sorts of attitudes and behaviors to really encourage and sustain participation in improvement.

Some habits, like an aversion to change, are hard to break.

"The tightrope that our senior leaders have to walk to balance risk aversion and a desire to change as well as the cynicism among employees and impatience of the incremental changes that are being made."

Continuous improvement leadership is a topic we write and talk about quite frequently. Check out this webinar recording to get some pointers on leadership behaviors that create a culture of continuous improvement (and this one, that covers some more of those behaviors). 


A "lack of time" or not having time because "we're taking on too much" is also a common theme. How can we create time for improvement activities? That's an important challenge that many of our customers have figured out.

One respondent struggles with:

"a lack of 'protected time' for team members closest to the work to get involved in improvement... all hours are counted in the staffing requirements and extremely few to giving people a chance to work on improvements that would ultimately affect the larger system."

Others describe having "too many priorities, day to day firefighting, lack of resources" and another said it in a colorful way, where "the tyranny of the moment" means there are too many priorities that prevent personnel from focusing on CI activities.

If you're struggling with this problem, check out this blog post for some ideas to make more time for continuous improvement.

From Big Huge Ideas to Smaller Improvements

Many organizations struggle because everybody is trying to think of the next big thing... and that's hard to do. One person said, "Most staff are always trying to think of the next big thing instead of small iterative improvements."

We're huge believers in the power of small improvements. Check out this video about that very concept, and see how the number of improvements you implement can impact your overall results in this blog post

Top to Bottom Attitudes

Creating a culture of continuous improvement requires everybody to change, "Opening people's minds to the possibility of change….from Board Room to frontline," as one attendee put it.

One other person said:

"The biggest challenge is getting teammates to actually perform the tasks. I know in my department, there is an old culture here where teammates have been getting by with doing the minimum. I want our facility and my teammates to thrive."

Lean philosophies teach us to ask why... why are people just doing the minimum? It could be because leaders aren't engaging and inspiring them. So, rather than blaming front-line staff, leaders can focus on changing the culture -- that often turns people around! Download this free eBook to learn more about employee engagement in continuous improvement. 

Another person said a challenge is,

"The human tendency to avoid making hard decisions and getting providers to move away from "no decision is the best decision."

What are some major barriers for you or your organization? What gets in the way of improvement and innovation? Leave a comment and let us know.

Jamie Flinchbaugh recently gave a webinar that discussed some leadership behaviors that can address these barriers and set your organization up for success. Check it out:


How to Drive Improvement Behaviors to Increase Performance Gains

 Watch Now

  • Learn how the improvement behaviors of your staff directly determine your results
  • See why most leaders fail to get the behaviors they need from employees
  • Learn how to design an actionable strategy for deliberate behavior change - on any budget



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