Literature  Change Management

Overcoming Barriers to Innovation

In this excerpt from the book Building a Culture of InnovationCris Beswick, Derek Bishop and Jo Geraghty present a list of key barriers to innovation and advice for change managers on how to overcome them.

‘Be prepared’ is a motto that should hang over every change manager’s door, particularly as failure to bring change in on time or on budget is often caused by the unexpected.

Simply being aware at the outset of the barriers and pitfalls which may arise will enable you to either put steps in place to avoid the barriers or to swiftly deal with them when they arise. Let’s start by looking at some of the barriers to innovation change.

‘The regulators won’t approve’

Well actually, not only will they approve they are actively looking for business to transform, to move away from a hidebound, slow, process-driven, ‘profit-is-all’ mentality and towards something which delivers solutions for today’s problems.

‘The investors won’t back it’

Let’s face facts; investors are looking for a return on their investment. They certainly won’t back a business which consistently shows itself to be behind the curve and if the business goes under because it was not agile enough to adapt in response to changing appetites then the investors will place the blame squarely on the leadership team.

The rise of crowdfunding, direct fundraising and peer-to-peer loans testifies to the public appetite for rewarding those who are prepared to challenge the status quo.

‘There is no public appetite'

Just look at the queues that develop outside shops across the globe when new models are released and then try and say that the public won’t back change. Or look at the way in which online posts can go viral across the world thanks to near-universal adoption of social media technologies.

How about the way in which online banking and shopping or working from home or from alternate sites have risen from nothing to being seen almost as a right in a few short years? These are all examples of the way in which the public are only too willing to accept change, provided it is presented in the right way.

And don’t forget the rise of Generation Z. They are actively looking for new models and want to be involved in co-creation.

Employee resistance

It is a perennial challenge to balance the innate change-resistance within mankind with the explorer spirit which searches for new things. ‘We’ve always done it this way’ is hard to overcome, particularly if you are looking to replace hierarchical silos with a more collaborative way of working. But managing change and educating employees is a key element of any change programme. And at the end of the day, if all else fails you can always borrow the ‘if you don’t like the change then leave’ strategy adopted by Barclays CEO Antony Jenkins when he brought in a sizeable culture change near the start of his tenure.

‘It’s too risky’

Risk appetite is hard to overcome, as the fight-or-flight response is set within our genes. And when we talk about collaboration, flatter structures and innovation, which embraces failure as a learning point, then those with even mild risk phobia can get twitchy.

But innovation culture is not an unstructured free-for-all. Success is dependent on putting the right structures and goals in place and these manage risk far better than any tight control.

Look at the financial services sector, for example. The old regime under the then Financial Services Authority (FSA) imposed regulation after regulation and we still had mis-selling and malpractice. That’s why the regulators are encouraging organisations to transform their cultures to ones which value care and ethics.

‘The technology isn’t there’

Well, if you are losing market share to new entrants then the technology certainly is there. And if it isn’t then it probably will be in a very short time. If you wait for technology to be in place then you will constantly chase the market; if you look to construct and to deliver then you can shape the market or create new ones.

‘It doesn’t fit with our strategy’

As a CEO, you can’t simply ‘ask’ for innovation, you have to move from talk to execution. Just like any other business imperative innovation requires a robust strategy that defines the course of action best suited to your organisational vision. We’ll look at innovation strategy and alignment later on in this book.

‘It doesn’t fit with the culture of the organisation’

Well no, it probably doesn’t at the start because otherwise you wouldn’t be looking to build a new culture. Building and embedding a culture of innovation is only possible if you look at the change required in a holistic way. Your strategy and framework for innovation will depend on how much you are prepared to change your existing culture so that existing operations do not conflict and counteract the drivers that innovation requires.

In almost every survey over 90% of senior execs say people and culture are the most important factors for driving innovation! But the surveys also indicate that senior execs remain unconfident about how to approach embedding innovation. From that it’s easy to see why the focus remains with capability and why that narrow focus rarely creates enough momentum to positively change culture.

‘Our people don’t have the capability to be innovative’

What’s commonly known as ‘The Fuzzy Front End’ is where most organisations start their innovation journey. However, the likelihood of anything more than incremental from the typical ‘brainstorming’ session is remote.

In order to capitalise on your people’s capacity for innovation, capability-building is key. You’ll need to learn how to enhance idea generation and use design thinking to turn powerful ideas into commercially viable improvements, products or services quickly and consistently. This includes moving people way beyond the traditional ‘brainstorming’ sessions because in their current format, they just don’t work! Innovation requires an organisation-wide approach to the tools, techniques and processes that enable and enhance it.

Create processes for gathering fresh, forward-thinking insight, genuine customer needs, wants, problems and tensions, i.e. intelligence. Then create a funnel for channelling ideas in the right direction towards implementation. Like anything else in business, if you don’t have a process, your innovation efforts won’t have consistency, won’t be scalable and won’t be efficient.

‘Our product is so similar to other businesses’

If your position is that the only thing you can do is compete on price so you can’t afford to change then you might as well shut up shop now. When competitors’ products are virtually identical then it is how organisations deliver the product that matters. Exceptional customer service and experience, strong reputation and even that word trust all come into play because the ultimate goal of innovation is as a driver of differentiation.

‘We don’t know if what we do is working’

Generating lots of ideas is all well and good but more than ever we need those potential solutions to add value both internally and externally. Simply flooding an organisation with large numbers of ideas is counterproductive and doesn’t help the ongoing case for innovation when people don’t see follow-through from their input.

Measuring and gaining an understanding not only of the starting point but also of progress made is crucial, and you need to consider the importance of generating some ‘quick wins’ to help to keep enthusiasm alive until such time as innovation is fully embedded in every individual and every process. As with any change programme, the better the communication the more easily it will be embraced.


Building a Culture of Innovation is a practical guide to leading a cultural change programme to unlock the innovation potential in your business. By changing your organisational culture to one that supports Building a Culture of Innovation, you will remove the barriers that stop you responding quickly and agilely to changing market conditions and opportunities for growth.

This extract from Building a Culture of Innovation by Cris Beswick, Derek Bishop & Jo Geraghty is ©2015 and reproduced with permission from Kogan Page Ltd.

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