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Sustainability: Moving from Common Sense to Common Practice
2016 International Conference
Leesburg, VA - National Conference Center

September 18th - 21st

Resistance Has No Layers

Robert Newbold - CEO of ProChain Solutions

What we call "resistance to change” can be seen in both selling and implementing TOC. Selling an implementation is difficult; after the sale, implementations often fail to achieve their promise or lose their effectiveness too quickly. An obvious reason for both problems is that people resist doing what we need them to do.

Overcoming this resistance is a critical hurdle to adoption of TOC as "the” way. Over the years, we have seen a steady stream of clear TOC successes but no tide. In fact, resistance – both of buyers and of hoped-for adopters – has been a force driving changes in TOC for at least thirty years. Unfortunately, despite these efforts some of the signature achievements of TOC, including the Thinking Processes and S&T trees, remain relatively unknown in the world at large.

TOC advocates, starting with Dr. Goldratt, created the TOC buy-in concepts to address this resistance: minus-minus buy-in, plus-plus buy-in, layers of resistance, Intimately Involved People, and so on. However, all these concepts suffer from a flawed underlying paradigm. To understand that paradigm, let’s lay bare the underlying process typically employed when people think about buy-in:

  1. I do my research and understand the problems.
  2. I think through a practical, win-win solution.
  3. I buy people into the solution, possibly using one or more TOC tools.
  4. We (or you) implement the solution.
The problem should be clear from the words in bold type; I call it the "me/you” paradigm. I have developed my solution (steps 1 and 2). It’s no wonder that when I want you to help implement it (steps 3 and 4), when I try for buy-in, I have to backtrack and bring you to where I already am.

Consider the Layers of Resistance. Layer 1 is "disagree[ment] on the problem.” Of course we need agreement on the problem. But because I have already done steps 1 and 2 above, because I have built personal ownership in my understanding of "the” problem, I have made it my problem. Now I have to peel back this layer of resistance, because I started involving other people after I defined the problem and solution. I have to get past the fact that it is my problem and turn it into our problem. For most managers and consultants, that is difficult to do. They are already equating my problem with the problem.

Similar issues can be seen with the other layers of resistance. In general, the "me/you” paradigm ensures that a consultant or manager will start with "the” solution, which inhibits ownership by the right people: those who have to guide and implement the changes. That leads to an interesting conclusion: I have to convert my solution to our solution. I have to drag people through my solution. To do that, a TOC expert will logically follow the steps of the Thinking Processes. That is why those steps are mirrored in the Layers of Resistance.

Much of the resistance comes about because we are pushing a (or "the”) solution. This exposes an interesting conflict. Suppose I want the company to be as successful as possible (A). In order to do that, I must promote a good solution (B), which means I must promote my solution. (D). On the other hand, I also need ownership by the people implementing the solution (C), which means I must somehow allow them to promote their solution (D’).

The cloud is broken, of course, if the two solutions are the same – if we start by building our solution, using an "us” paradigm: What is our problem – the problem we all want to solve? What is our solution? What are we going to do to implement it?

There’s no problem with a consultant gaining understanding of an organization and thinking of ways to help it. The problem comes when he or she starts to pretend they know the answers; when he or she equates my solution with the solution, rather than consistently working towards our solution.

As we make the shift from me/you to us, I have found that it helps significantly to use words that guide people to think in terms of our solution rather than my solution. I use an Agree, Align, Advance process that looks something like this:

1. Key stakeholders must Agree on what needs to happen:
  • What is the system we are trying to change?
  • What are the fundamental objectives we want to achieve?
  • How will we know when we are successful?
2. Everyone Aligns around a solution:
  • How are we going to achieve the objectives?
  • What is the priority for achieving them?
  • Do key stakeholders need to reconsider what they Agreed to?
3. Everyone Advances towards the objectives:
  • How is our progress?
  • Are we maintaining agreement and alignment?
Without this kind of structure, I find that people leave things out. They unconsciously follow the "me/you” paradigm and usurp ownership of the problem and the solution. The good news is, there are great benefits to converting to an "us” paradigm. As you involve in more people and ideas, you come up with much better objectives, measurements, and plans. Just as important, you get much greater ownership while selling and implementing, which translates to more success as people solve their own problems. The bad news is, consultants and managers have to change how they think. It’s not just a matter of listening, it’s a matter of accepting from the start that the best solution is everyone’s solution.


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Robert Newbold is founder and CEO of ProChain Solutions and one of the world’s leading experts on implementing Critical Chain project scheduling and management. He has over thirty years of experience developing process improvements in various fields. Rob is a frequent writer and speaker and holds degrees from Stanford University, SUNY Stony Brook, and Yale University. He is the author of the books The Project Manifesto (ProChain Press), The Billion Dollar Solution (ProChain Press), and Project Management in the Fast Lane (St. Lucie Press) and is a contributing author to Theory of Constraints Handbook from McGraw-Hill.

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