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Velocity Part 3 – Five Basic Steps to Effective Constraint Management

Constraint management is at the heart of Goldratt’s Theory of Constraints (TOC). This management process involves five basic steps [i] :

  1. Identify the constraint
  2. Exploit the constraint
  3. Subordinate other activities to the constraint
  4. Elevate the constraint
  5. Avoid negative inertia and Go back to step 1

In my last blog entry, I identified “the capacity and the will to change” as the limiting constraint of cultural change projects. So I believe I am done with step one. I understand from steps two and three that all efforts must then be shifted to exploiting the identified constraint and that, while doing that, this constraint must be at the center of all our other decisions.

Since we are talking about humans here as being part of the identified constraint, and not about a machine or a piece of equipment, the use of the word Exploits in step 2 of TOC could certainly start us on the wrong foot, in our efforts to promote change. I believe that, for cultural/organisational change projects, it should be replaced by the word Recognise. Recognise what? The existence of this capacity and will to change of those affected, which is the very least we can do when contemplating any change. Once we have recognised this and accepted it, all our decisions will have to go towards analysing this constraint and doing everything to improve its current condition…or at least maintain it, if the way it behaves is acceptable. This is the key to making the contemplated change a success and, if possible, accelerating the benefits associated with this change.

In most change management endeavours, it is rare that we speak very positively of the initial conditions met, people wise, at the beginning of the project. The words that come to mind are not desire to change but rather resistance to change. The capacity and will to change constraint is not seen as something positive we can use, but rather as something negative we have to fight. So, while no one is talking about exploiting resistance to change, not many recognise the positive aspect of one’s capacity and will to change.

I believe most people have a desire to change, if the right conditions are met. According to the Change Gap model, for any group in a given change situation, roughly 10% are change enablers and are seeking change.  Eighty percent of the group are waiting to see how things evolve but are still open to persuasion. The remaining 10% would prefer to die rather than admit they can be in a better position if they accept the change. So I believe we can build part of our change strategy on the desire to change of the change enablers. We must also recognize the high potential of the 80% to be change agents with the right persuasion.. For that, we have to do the right things and find the right conditions to increase both their capacity and will to change

The next step, once we recognise that we are not dealing with negative resistance to change but rather with positive potential desire to change, is to work towards changing this potential into real desire. We have to elevate the capacity and will to change of those 80% who are open to persuasion and ready to get their own benefits from this change…if they recognize the benefits and have the means to get to them. This can only be done by working on both parameters of the constraint, the capacity and the will to change. In my next blog entry, I will propose means and strategies to elevate or increase the capacity to change. In the entry after that, I will propose means and strategies to elevate the will to change.

Anyone, invited to manage a cultural/organisational change project, has to look at it very positively. So, instead of fearing and fighting resistance to change, this person should see desire to change as a positive force to harness and, hence, should design ways to elevate current capacity and will to change.


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