A Taste of Lessons #6: Goldratt & His Theory of Constraints

Posted on August 21, 2012 by admin

Lessons Learned from Eli #2: Resistance to Change

At his Viable Vision seminar, in Seattle, Eli Goldratt described some of the reasons why people resist change, and what it is about the culture of an organization that creates an environment that molds such people. I realized that he was talking about what Jerry Weinberg has described as Level 1 and Level 2 organizations—the hero developer level and the hero manager level. The hero is cast in the role of firefighter, and he is the hero because he delivers. He delivers by putting out fires. As a result, he is rewarded for putting out fires and he is praised and admired by his colleagues as a champion firefighter. The more fires, the better practiced he becomes at putting them out and the more admired he becomes for putting them out. As a result, he measures his self-esteem by his prowess at putting out fires.

Hence, the hero firefighter learns to thrive on chaos. Chaos is the norm in the organization and the hero is the master of chaos—the one who parts the seas and delivers the team from the perils of chaos and non-conformant quality.

A hero does not want to move to a state of control because his or her selfesteem will drop when she or he is no longer praised for being a hero. An organization running in a state of control no longer needs heroes!

So there is a conflict. The organization wants to be under control and to deliver predictably, but some staff members thrive on chaos and their status in the organization depends on it.

How might we resolve this conflict? The senior management must start to reward people for behavior that is congruent with controlled performance, and they must build self-esteem around that behavior. The heroes must be coached and assisted to adapt to a new pattern of behavior—one that anticipates and absorbs uncertainty rather than one that heroically reacts to it.

Contemporary Commentary

As a further reflection on this story, I encountered such a situation in 2007 - the hero group project manager who thrived on chaos and firefighting. Like Goldratt, I’d always believed that changes should be made in ways such that all team members would be able to come along for the ride; that job losses were an unacceptable cost of change. Encountering the queen of firefighting, who had spent a 30-year career in this mold, I came to realize that perhaps Jim Collins had it right - you have to decide who you want on the bus. As a result, some people have to be asked to leave. Although leaders can set an expectation for a new culture and new social norms, not everyone will like it. Coaching may prove fruitless with such people, and meanwhile, their behavior may deteriorate. In 2007, the group project manager started to light fires just so people would see her putting them out. She became the organizational arsonist. She had to go!