Can we say Six Sigma is a culture? How can we spread the word at the grass-roots level?


To begin, we must consider the idea of “organizational culture.” In the book “Organizational Behavior” by Robert Kreitner and Angelo Kinicki, the culture of an organization is defined as: “The set of shared, taken-for-granted implicit assumptions that a group holds and that determines how it perceives, thinks about, and reacts to its various environments.”

Based on this definition, an organization’s observable artifacts, espoused values, and basic assumptions could serve to characterize its culture. In turn, these things continually shape the organization’s design and reward systems in a dynamic on-going manner. In a domino like way, the latter two factors mold certain group and social processes, such as decision making, patterns of socialization, group dynamics, communication, and leadership, just to mention a few. Of course, such processes determine work attitudes, job satisfaction, and motivation.

Ultimately, an organization’s effectiveness (and its innovation) can be diagnosed by careful analysis of the aforementioned factors. In fact, research has shown that: 1) organizational culture was significantly correlated with employee attitudes and behavior; 2) the extent of congruence between an individual’s values and the organization’s values was associated with such things as organizational commitment, job satisfaction, and turnover; 3) organizational culture cannot be used to predict a company’s financial performance; and 4) business mergers frequently failed due to incompatible cultures.

Building upon this knowledge and research, we are able to identify several tried-and-proven ways to create or otherwise embed a certain culture into an organization. Kreitner and Kinicki argue that these ways and means are inclusive of, but not limited to such things as:

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1) Formal statements of organizational philosophy, mission, vision, and values;
2) Materials used for recruiting, selection and socialization;
3) The design of physical space, work environments and buildings;
4) Slogans, acronyms, and sayings;
5) Deliberate role modeling, training programs, teaching and coaching by managers and supervisors;
6) Explicit rewards, status symbols (e.g. titles), and promotion criteria;
7) Stories, legends, or myths about key people and events;
8) The organizational activities, processes, or outcomes that leaders pay attention to, measure, and control;
9) Leader reactions to critical incidents and organization crises;
10) The workflow and organizational structure;
11) Organizational systems and procedures;
12) Organizational goals;
13) Criteria for recruitment, selection, and development; and
14) Standards for promotion, layoffs, and retirement of people.

So, we ask the question: “Can it be said that Six Sigma is a culture?” The answer is a resounding: “Yes.” Why? Consider how Six Sigma is a fact-based, metrics-driven, problem-solving, project-oriented type of initiative. Further reconcile the fact that Six Sigma ties performance to pay, has a formal vision, constitutes a value, has defined roles, is deployed by way of knowledge transfer (training), and involves coaching by internal leaders. As is widely known, Six Sigma has an established workflow commonly called “DMAIC.” Finally, we recognize that Six Sigma has it’s own work design and structure. For these reasons, and many others, we must concede that Six Sigma can significantly influence other types and forms of corporate culture; it can even be a culture – in and of itself.

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