In 1984, Dr. Eliyahu Goldratt published the landmark management book, The Goal (if you haven’t read it by now, put it on your reading list today). The book, written as a novel that follows a plant manager desperately trying to turn things around before the plant is shut down, outlines Goldratt’s management model known as the Theory of Constraints (TOC). Goldratt’s belief was that a small number of constraints, or bottlenecks, prevent an organization from reaching its goals. The old cliché “you’re only as strong as your weakest link” aptly summarizes TOC. Management should identify and eliminate (or at least increase the flow through of) the constraint to achieve expected outcomes.
Although Goldratt’s book uses a manufacturing example, TOC can refer to a variety of management challenges, including telework. When implementing a telework or flexible work initiative, every organization has to consider various factors that will fall into general buckets of people, policy, and technology. Within each of these areas it’s possible to zero in on the limiting factor or factors which are preventing the organization from a successful rollout.
Adapting Goldratt’s 5 steps to improving a system to a telework initiative would look something like this:
- Identify the constraint(s) preventing the organization from achieving its goals (i.e. mid-level management resistance is becoming a barrier to organization-wide adoption).
- Decide how to remove or get the most out of the constraint (i.e. target mid-level management through additional training, communication, and metrics).
- Align the organization to support the decision in Step 2 (i.e. top-down communication from senior management, mandatory pilots, or metrics published and tracked at the executive level).
- Make any other major changes necessary to break the constraint (i.e. incentives, incorporation into performance evaluations).
- Go back to Step 1 if goal is not achieved.
If nothing else, Goldratt’s TOC provide a good mental model for leaders. Every large scale initiative like telework/flexible work will encounter obstacles. Successful leaders are those that can quickly identify the right barriers and design ways to overcome them.