The following is The Last Word from the March/April 2006 issue of iSixSigma Magazine, entitled “Getting Ahead in Business with Six Sigma.”

Operational excellence does not come easy, whether in America’s heartland or on the streets of New York City. It takes leaders who are willing to make changes.

Despite the breakthrough improvements made by for-profit companies around the world, many not-for-profit organizations, including city governments, still put out fires on a day-to-day basis, instead of preventing fires by improving the way they do business.

I can understand why: Carrying out daily activities can be all consuming. If every person had to spend time improving a process, rather than actually doing it, activities would build up in a queue, delaying their execution. Court cases would wait to be processed, sanitation needs would go unmet, and roads would not be kept in good repair. None of that is acceptable, of course, but it emphasizes the importance of routine duties.

On the other hand, imagine if we drove our car for months, even years, without proper servicing – didn’t change the oil, maintain proper tire inflation or tune the engine – because we were too busy doing our routine activities. What if we didn’t take the time every so often to ensure our car’s expected performance? Gradually, the car would not run as well and require more fuel to go the same distance. Eventually, it would stop running.

Most business operations – including those of city government – require similar attention to maintain efficiency. But unlike servicing a car, a business “tune-up” can drive improvements in performance beyond the operation’s initial capabilities.

I recently had the honor of meeting Rudy Giuliani, mayor of New York from 1994 to 2002, at the IQPC Six Sigma Summit. In his keynote address to more than 500 delegates from around the world, Giuliani provided leadership lessons learned through his wide experience as a lawyer in private practice, as a U.S. attorney in the Department of Justice, and as the head of one of the largest cities in the world:

“There are really two things that make an effective leader: philosophy and process. Some people have great ideas, but they don’t ever accomplish them. Some people are enormously efficient, but they have no ideas. If you can put the two things together, having good ideas and goals, and being practical enough to know how to achieve them, then you can be very effective as a leader.”

In introducing Giuliani, Daniel Quinn, president and CEO of Aon Management Consulting/Rath & Strong noted, “The ability to measure performance accurately is critical to any organization looking to improve efficiency and ensure success. Rudy believes a system of measurement motivates employees and decision-makers alike. Accountability enables leaders to identify problems more effectively and make solutions pervasive throughout an organization.”

Giuliani emphasized that an organization cannot improve unless it is willing to change. “To be a leader, you have to be willing to do something different. You have to be willing to change something.”

Both Giuliani and the mayor of Fort Wayne, Indiana, Graham Richard, made changes that dramatically improved their cities. Whether or not you use Six Sigma as the basis of your measurement and improvement system, as the City of Fort Wayne now does, great leadership requires a vision and a process for improvement.

Six Sigma provides a philosophy, a roadmap and a toolset. For more than 10 years, private businesses have been proving Six Sigma works. Now is the time for government to partner with private businesses to provide breakthrough improvements that benefit every citizen.

It is an imperative for our tomorrow; it is an imperative for leadership today.

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