Everyone building Lean Six Sigma in an organization probably agrees that the challenge is not teaching the tools but changing the mindset. As many of us have experienced, we could introduce misconceptions that are counter-productive.

For example, there are a lot of discussions or even debates on the standards of Black Belt certification – what level of knowledge, how much experience, what business benefits they have achieved, etc. I think all these discussions are well intended and appropriate. However, they often miss a very important point, which shapes people’s mental representation of Lean Six Sigma.

The point is “What is the true meaning of the Black Belt?” If you asked your certified BBs, trained candidates, or untrained colleagues, which of the following would be most representative of their answers?

A. A well-deserved reward for all their hard work.

B. A symbol of distinction and the highest achievement in our art.

C. The start of a never-ending journey of discipline, work, and the pursuit of an ever-higher standard.

If you have read Built to Last by Jim Collins and Jerry I. Porras, you know these came from the end of Chapter 9, “Good Enough Never Is. “

After I was certified as a Master Black Belt last year, someone asked me how I felt. A sense of accomplishment notwithstanding, I felt two things.

1. I am now held to a higher standard. People will expect more from me — how I lead, how much I deliver, and how I improve.

2. I have reached a higher level of commitment. Lean Six Sigma is not just what I do, but defines who I am.

When we select candidates, design training curriculum, and certify Black Belts, let’s never forget what messages we convey to our organizations about the meaning of Lean Six Sigma and being a Black Belt. These messages shape the minds of people, and eventually their behaviors, more than the mission or vision statement.

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