Organizations report challenges in implementing continuous improvement or operational excellence initiatives as they strive for sustainability, yet few have considered the impact that social barriers have in creating resistance to implementation. Through a qualitative grounded theory method, this study highlights several contributions. First, social barriers are stronger than other challenges to implementing operational excellence. Second, these barriers include interpersonal (e.g., communication challenges, unwillingness to change, and workplace relationships) and organizational (e.g., employee treatment, cultural values, and formal organizational characteristics) issues. This article thus links sustainability to operational excellence and suggests that the greatest barriers to becoming more sustainable are likely social in nature. The study then concludes, in addition to these contributions, with a consideration of limitations and directions for future research.

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