In memory of a true leadership hero – Eliyahou M. Goldratt

On June 11th, 2011, the world lost Eli Goldratt – a true leadership hero.

Many call him a management visionary because of his Theory of Constraints – a management and improvement focusing approach that in retrospect most see as “just common sense.” A fact that he accepted as praise.

But, or maybe in addition, I call him a leadership hero because of one of the fundamentals underlying his work – his assertion that people are good.

As a business leader for many years, I know how easy it can be to blame problems in a business on the people doing the work. “If we just had smarter, harder working, more careful people. If people just did what we wanted them to do, everything would be fine.”

But the fact is that as managers, we often attribute the problem to people when it’s really a situation or a policy issue. Goldratt referred to this in his early work as a policy constraint. Policies are not physical constraints, like a production bottleneck, but they still act to constrain the system’s bottleneck.

For example, if we fail to plan new product projects and then communicate the plans should we expect people to just know what the best use of their time is? Or when they should stop and move on to something else? If we laud multi-tasking as a valuable skill, is it any surprise when multiple projects suffer and nothing gets done on time.

But Eli’s one little assertion, that people are basically good and want to do the right thing, leads us to first ask how the policies we have put in place, both formal and informal, cause people to act. If we start with that assumption, what can we do to put people into situations where it is obvious what doing the right thing means.

Of course, it can be a big bad world out there and no manager should be so naïve as to think that there aren’t exceptions – Eli certainly wasn’t. But rather than building our policies around the exceptions, let’s build them instead around what Eli knew was true – that the vast majority of your employees want to do the right thing, and as leaders it’s our role to put them in situations where they can do just that.

This article appears by permission of the author and was originally published on his Simplifying Innovation blog.

Dalton on Innovation

Mike Dalton is the author of Simplifying Innovation: Doubling speed to market and new product profits – with your existing resources


Author: Michael Dalton

Mike Dalton's Guided Innovation Group, works with companies that want more impact form new product innovation in less time. Clients credit Mike with helping them double new product profits and cut time to market by more than half. He's also the author of the book Simplifying Innovation: Doubling speed to market and new product profits - with your existing resources. You can download free sample chapters at Simplifying Innovation. Prior to starting the Guided Innovation Group, he had 24 years of experience growing new and existing businesses as a general management and business development executive for the industrial polymer division of the multi-billion dollar S.C. Johnson & Son family of companies. He holds an MBA in marketing & finance from the University of Chicago and a chemical engineering, gas, and energy technology degree from the Illinois Institute of Technology. You can learn more about getting more impact from your innovation by visiting Guided Innovation where they offer an array of reports and other free innovation resources.

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