Article (June-2017)


Theory of constraints@talent management

Sanjeev Himachali

Designation : -   Principal Consultant & Talent Strategist

Organization : -  EclipticHRS


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According to me, potential performance constraints are: 

1.Poorly defined role - competency match [Job Description].

2.Unclear objectives and performance parameters.

3.Inadequate communication within the organization.

4.Poorly designed performance management system [KRA's, Definition of Good Performance, Rewards, etc].

5.Lack of resources and authority to get things done.

6.Poor and conflicting working conditions.

7.Inadequate performance of subordinates or managers.

In addition to above mentioned constraints, career aspirations of employees, their motives and motivations, poorly defined priorities and family life of employees also work as performance constraints. For e.g. an employee going through a divorce and a fight over the custody of his children won't be able to give 100% to his work.

Khoury's Performance Equation has summarized it beautifully -

Performance = [(D + A)/O]*Motivation


D=Degree of Quality and Direction [Knowing what to do, Objectives, Goal, Clear definition of Outstanding and Unacceptable Performance].

A=Ability of an individual [Knowledge, Skills, Competencies, and Right fitment into the role].

O=Obstacles/Opportunities [Lack of resources, Poor Processes, Lack of Authority, etc.].

M=Motivation [Career Path, Future, Family, etc.].

Which means a highly skilled and motivated person won't be able to perform optimally if he doesn't have properly defined parameters. Similarly, an employee working in an environment that drives performance and has right system and processes in place won't be able to perform if he is not a right fit for the role or if he is not motivated enough.

For me, cases of "D" and "O" come under Consulting Assignments and "A" and "M" come under Coaching Assignments.


Tools to Identify and recognize bottlenecks
To find the bottleneck, whether at organizational level or at the team or an individual level, I use several tools, such as - Problem Specification, Present State / Desired State Technique, Process Mapping, Backward Process Mapping, Scenario Thinking, Fishbone Diagram, Systems Analysis, Psychometric Assessments and 360-degree feedback.  Let me explain these techniques in brief.

Problem Specification - It helps in collecting specifics and appropriate data for defining a problem statement that clearly indicates the link between an undesirable "as is" situation and the desired "should be" situation.

Present State/Desired State Technique - This technique helps us identify where we are and where we want to go so that an appropriate path can be found to reach the desired objective. It also helps us to know whether the solution goals (desired state) are consistent with our needs (present state).

Fishbone Diagram - An Ishikawa Diagram, or the fishbone diagram, because of its unique shape, is a way to visually organize and examine all factors that may influence a given situation by identifying all possible causes that produce an effect.

Process Mapping - This identifies and maps all cross-functional processes, organizations metrics, and estimated processing time. It ensures a systematic understanding of the "as is" situation and improvement process.

Backward Process Mapping - BPM is a method of solving a problem by assuming and imagining that your problem is solved and then working backward. While conventional thinking urges us to think forward, one step at a time from a beginning point, the working backward method encourages us to move from an imaginary ideal solution and then think backward to the beginning point.

Scenario Thinking - Action learning teams are frequently used to explore the roots of an issue or problem confronting an organization. One of the tools often deployed in such situations, and which has applicability to case-based learning, is scenario thinking and planning. Unlike traditional forecasting methods, the attempt to predict trends and exert management control over uncertainty, scenario thinking and planning embraces uncertainty and engages in processes of prospective thinking about alternative possibilities. The purpose of scenarios is not to produce predictions or to enhance planning, but to change the mindset of people who develop and use them.

Systems Thinking - It is a framework to observe interrelationships and study patterns of change rather than static "snapshots". Today, systems thinking is needed more than ever because we are becoming overwhelmed by complexity. Perhaps, for the first time in history, humankind has the capacity to create far more information than anyone can absorb, to foster far greater interdependency than anyone can manage, and to accelerate change faster than anyone's ability to keep pace. Certainly, the scale of complexity is without precedent. Organizations are breaking down despite individual brilliance and innovative products because they are unable to pull their diverse functions and talents into a productive whole. The essence of Systems Thinking lies in a shift of mind - seeing interrelationships rather than linear cause-effect chains and seeing processes of change rather than snapshots.

Case - I
When the case of Madhumita Sharma came to me in last Q of 2015, both she and her boss were frustrated with each other and the scenario was not only affecting the performance of Madhumita but that of the entire team. Madhumita was working with an automobile company as a Director - Client Management for just over a year. In the past, she had given a solid stellar performance in the company, such that in the previous 10 years of her association with the company, she already had THREE major promotions.

Earlier in 2015, Madhumita went on a maternity leave with her first child. The organization decided not to get a temporary replacement for her. Instead, her second-in-command was tasked to oversee her responsibility and report to the boss of Madhumita. All decisions were coming from Madumita's boss. Things worked out fine until Madhumita came back.

For a year, before going on maternity leave, Madhumita enjoyed her freedom to make decisions and take the lead in all aspects of client management. But when she came back her boss decided that the dynamics when Madhumita was not around worked out so well that it should stay that way. She was asked to seek her boss's decision for everything before she made any move. That didn't sit well with Madhumita and for the first time she felt totally not in control and that new set-up had affected her performance leading to frustration. She did not welcome the idea of getting her boss's approval for every step of the new business she was brewing.

Analysis & Recommendation - In this case on the surface, the boss might appear like a probable bottleneck on way of otherwise outstanding performer Madhumita. However, that wasn't the case.  A 360-degree review was conducted for Madhumita and her boss conducted a psychometric assessment using Extended DISC and mapped workflow processes of Madhumita before taking maternity leave and after her return. First of all, the personality of Madhumita and her boss were in conflict with each other.

Madhumita came across as a kind of leader who was driven to keep seeking bigger and better, and the act of exploration was central to her enjoyment of life. Her goal was to take in more and more. She had high energy levels, and along with that came a high need for excitement. Because of which, she tended to be a risk taker, and she didn't mind being under pressure. In fact, she would view pressure as a positive thing.  She didn't like feeling constrained. In fact, she had a high need for freedom. She would tend to see a big, wide world of opportunity.

On the other hand, her boss came across as one among leaders who rely on a high degree of confidence. Over a period, he had trained himself to believe in his own abilities, he was slow to recognize the errors of his own ways. He lacked patience for any ideas that contradicted him. His team used to view him as arrogant but he would brush that aside, assuming that others didn't understand the "real" state of affairs. He considered himself as "uncompromising" realists.  He would rarely adjust his perceptions to make the world seem nicer. That's why he was very clear in his mind that when Madhumita initially joined his team, he wanted things in a certain way and now since the work process changed in her absence, she must adjust to the new process and get going.

Neither Madhumita wanted to leave her job nor her boss wanted to lose a high-potential and high-performing employee. In her role, Madhumita was primarily responsible for generating new business and growing existing business across markets, customer base, and product sets. Finally, it was decided that Madhumita would involve her boss in all strategic decisions related to all new high-revenue clients. They also agreed to a monthly meeting to review new prospects and business challenges in new markets.

Last I heard that the then boss of Madhumita got promoted to the level of SVP and was transferred to London to led organization's business in Europe.


Case - II
The CEO of a packaging company in June 2015 sought help to prepare a high-performing employee, the Operations Director, for scaling up the production capacity by more than double of the current capacity.

Ganesh Chandrasekaran was the Operations Director with this packaging company that specializes in the use of water soluble materials. GC had recently joined this company after its former Operations Director had quit after realizing that he couldn't fix the never ending problems of the operations department. GC was having more than 20 years of experience. The management had high hopes for him. He was seen as someone who could turn around the operations department to meet its expected performance especially since it was the heart of the company. Failure in the operations department means failure to meet client requirements and eventual loss of customers.

Since GC first stepped into the company's facility, he had worked long hours making sure the facility was ready for production every day, people needs were met and ample planning and preparation was done for future production. Thus, so far he had done an exemplary job. But the management knew that GC was at his peak. Any more work would make him crash and may affect his performance. In early June, the company had received confirmation that two of their customers had increased their order by 10 and 20 million respectively with 60 million projected sales for following 5-7 years.

The production requirement brought about by the increased order would mean asking GC to work even harder than what he was already doing. The company had not had an Operations Director as efficient and as effective as GC. They would like to prepare him for the significant task.

Analysis & Recommendation - Ganesh was advised to take a psychometric assessment, spoke to his team members, and his family, and observed him at work for one week. He came across as a leader who had natural skepticism that made him less attentive to team dynamics. He was lacking an open or trusting attitude towards other people, and hence he needed to be in the workplace for longer hours. He had a strong drive to control the world around him, to have some influence on the variables that affect him.  He merely attached a lot of "should" to his outlook on life. People should work a certain way, projects should be managed a certain way, and business should be run a certain way. Due to this approach towards work and people, he was finding it next to impossible to entrust and delegate work to others. He had very little patience for other people who he would consider as incompetent. Ina situation where he had to work with according to him less able people, he would work around them. He gave them minimal responsibility and did not include them on updates, rather than making an effort to fully engage them and discover their passions and talents.

He had set extremely high standards for himself and for people around him. He wouldn't be much impressed when things went well, however, when things went wrong, his disapproval was loud and clear.  His team members found it intimidating and demoralizing and it caused them to focus on avoiding mistakes than on really pushing themselves to stretch and grow. 
Through rounds of coaching sessions, it was decided that Ganesh would drop his guard a bit and let go of tasks that were not adding value to his role. Instead, he must delegate those tasks to other competent people in his team. He was coached to master the art of delegation. Since he was not too happy with the competence level of his team members and he wasn't really willing to train them at such a short notice, it was decided to allow Ganesh hire competent people from talent market and transfer few from his team to other departments. 
As on date, Ganesh is doing well in his extended role.

Over the last 10 years, I have found that TOC can be applied effectively in talent management. Performance constraints are not always external in nature. Many times, such constraints are internal in people. As talent management experts, it is our duty to identify and eliminate those constraints and help employees give their best in every situation. TOC can be used in recruitment processes, in performance management, in HR processes and policies as well as in talent retention. However, often we find, particularly in talent management, that though organizations and leaders spend time in identifying constraints that are hijacking the performance of their teams, they do nothing to eliminate those constraints and thereby live with the status quo.