The 5 Hidden Barriers Holding Your Company Culture Back

 The 5 Hidden Barriers Holding Your Company Culture Back

Employee Experience Innovation Leadership & Management

In an earlier blog post, we shared how Wegmans decided to sell cauliflower rice after an employee, Jody Wood, shared her challenges finding healthy foods for her husband's illness. The story is a great reminder to listen closely to employees and inspire innovation as part of your culture.

Everywhere you look, companies today are seeking their own ‘cauliflower rice.’ Leaders invest substantial time and resources into discovering breakthroughs and unlocking the best ideas of their employees. Yet many fail to see those efforts rewarded, even when all the right steps are taken.


To answer this question, Great Place To Work analyzed 792 organizations across a wide variety of industries and locations across the United States. We used machine learning algorithms to uncover the most significant set of written phrases, Trust Index© survey statements and demographics that collectively explained why some employees experienced more meaningful innovation opportunities than others. Additionally, we identified and analyzed organizations that underperformed their expected innovation level, capturing similarities that explained their lagging inventiveness.

What our research revealed are the five hidden barriers that get in the way of innovation. These five obstacles prevent organizations from developing a culture of Innovation By All. That is, a culture in which everyone is included in the innovation process— leading to increased inventiveness, greater agility, and faster growth.

We have found that even when organizations appear to be doing everything right to generate great ideas and breakthroughs from their people, these five obstacles often block their progress:

1. Everyday Fear: When employees experience anxiety around asking for work-life balance, they are less likely to innovate.

2. Purpose Gaps: If employees feel they're left out of the company's mission and excitement, they quickly feel excluded from innovation as well.

3. Running Too Lean: When people lack resources to get their work done or struggle to pay their bills where they live, they can't participate fully in innovation.

4. Frontline Manager Funk: Frontline managers are fundamental to driving innovation at all levels, yet often are left feeling neglected, overworked and under-supported.

5. Stagnating Minds: Many people do not feel they have the ability to grow professionally, which leads them to feel stuck and blocked from contributing new ideas.

Wegmans and other leading companies with Innovation By All cultures find their way around these barriers. In the case of Jody Wood and cauliflower rice, the shared purpose obstacle is perhaps the most obvious one that was avoided. Wood and company leaders are completely aligned about the importance of providing customers with high-quality, healthy food choices. Wood, in fact, applied for her job at Wegmans in large part because she loved shopping there.

Beyond fostering a collective sense of mission, Wegmans also has kept minds like Wood’s from stagnating. Company values of employee empowerment and “respect and listen” to employees shaped senior vice president, Joe Sofia’s, conversations with Wood and others, helping her to feel like her ideas matter and inspiring her to learn on the job.

Less visible in Wood’s story are the ways Wegmans avoids running too lean, creating everyday fear, or leaving frontline managers in a funk. In future posts, we will explain how the company does so. We also will explore and illuminate each of the five hidden barriers, so organizations see how these can crop up and cramp the kind of innovation necessary for success today.

For Joe Sofia, the ability to bring out the brightest ideas from everyone—no matter who they are as an individual or what they do for the organization—boils down to another Wegmans value. The value of care.

“When you genuinely care for your people and show a real interest in who they are and what they do and a real interest in wanting to help them have a better life, it shines through,” Sofia says. “They open up.”

Read the whole story in our paper, The Five Hidden Barriers of Innovation.

Great Place To Work