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Remove the Barriers to Raise the Bar

October 31, 2011

This post originally ran at SHRM’s We Know Next.

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There are many things that great leaders can do to create opportunities for employees to perform at their highest possible level.  Aside from developing and sustaining strong personal relationships built on a foundation of trust, feedback and coaching, leaders have the power to implement workplace initiatives such as flexibility, inclusion and a culture of candid communication.  We all want to have a ‘great place to work’ so we tinker and adjust and align our ways of operating and our workplace values with our goals and strategy.  We speak of empowering our employees so that they can have control over their work.  It’s practically a slogan for the modern-day leader to state “I like to hire great people and then set them free to do great work.”

And we mean it; I truly believe we mean it.  But I don’t think we spend enough time acknowledging the barriers we have in place that hinder true employee empowerment.  Those pesky organizational/cultural roadblocks we place in the path of those great people we’ve hired – barriers which slow them down or derail them completely from doing that great work.

So what do these barriers look like?  And how can we tell if we’ve got them in our organizations?

Barrier #1 – It’s important to define the most effective ways for employees to talk, listen and interact with each other.  In our fast paced go-go culture we may need to step back and think about some basics – do we share common definitions and understandings?  Are we using the appropriate technology tools to communicate with each other?   Are we ensuring that the right people are getting the right information at the right time?  If not, we may have a Barrier to Communication.

Barrier #2 – While we may talk about innovation and change and the need to compete in the global economy, when we fall back on the tired old mantra of “it’s fine to do it that way; it’s worked for us for years” then we know we’ve got a Barrier to Change. Legacy processes, sacred cows (“we can’t cut the KamaKama product line!  That’s the one the President started!” ) or just plain comfort, all contribute to building this roadblock.

Barrier #3 – Hierarchal org charts, physical environment and turf wars lead to the erection of virtual silos which in turn minimizes the opportunities for true collaboration.  Add in power struggles as employees jockey for favor and recognition and a challenging situation becomes even more difficult.  Are our employees involved in discussions and planning around process improvement activities?  Do they have the ability and freedom to walk across the hall or pick up the telephone and call a peer in another department to discuss, brainstorm and make an impact on their own job? If not, we may be running into a Barrier to Collaboration.

Leaders have the opportunity to impact results by supporting employees in their jobs. And removing obstacles that get in the way of success, achievements and performance is an absolute necessity.

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