If there’s one thing I’ve noticed about the effect the current economy is having on businesses, it’s the polarization of Six Sigma. Programs have either been seen as the reverent coming of the messiah or the two-bit television evangelist that needs to be turned off and forgotten about. For those companies that feel they are struggling for airtime, discussions about revitalization and redeployment have been preached by change agents to the senior leadership team. One of the common beliefs in these sermons focuses on the mandate to promote only those with Six Sigma belt certifications into future leadership roles. The belief is if the converted are the ones in charge, the religion of Six Sigma will continue to be institutionalized within the fold.

As a knight who chivalrously crusades to protect the reputation of Six Sigma, I have to tell you this belief is not a pragmatic approach to keep face time in the pulpit. First of all, the person in charge to drive the mandate is usually not someone in a Human Resources or Continuous Improvement role, but rather an executive leader, such as the CEO and as a result, the mandate becomes a function of the person (and not the program). I can think of several companies in the past that required future leaders to be at least Green Belt trained only to abandon the requirement when a new executive regime was put in place. What kind of message does this say about your Six Sigma program when two managers had to take different pathways to get to the same role?

Rather, companies who want to maintain a strong process improvement mindset need to take a two pronged approach. First, there should be a requirement for leaders to have Six Sigma executive awareness training. The training could be similar to a Yellow Belt package but should also involve concepts such as Lean, Practical Problem Solving, ISO, etc. Keep in mind this mandate is different than requiring leaders to be a Green or Black Belt. Senior leadership needs to have understanding, appreciation and respect for the Six Sigma program. They also need in-depth coaching on their role as champions which is generally not taught in Green/Black Belt courses.

The second part of the approach to revitalization is an assessment to ensure the employee is competent before moving into a leader role. Things to ask to determine a supportive future leader (as you would in a Six Sigma project) are:

  1. Can the employee clearly describe problems, lead a scope of work to resolve them, and achieve results?
  2. Can the employee work as part of a team?
  3. Can the employee make sound decisions based of the effective analysis of fact based data?
  4. Is the work done by the employee sustainable and embedded within the company?

Being a in a Green or Black Belt role can answer these questions, however the mandate to require this designation is not a poke yoke substitution to a solid leadership competency assessment. If these competencies are truly the way a person works everyday, you know they are legitimate future leaders who will be receptive to a data driven problem solving approach (and not someone who is getting a certificate for a one off project they begrudgingly complete).Also, companies may have other roles such as Lean Coaches, Project Managers who use the PrinceII methodology, etc.

By creating a Six Sigma mandate to move ahead, resentment occurs invoking competition and before you know it, the organization has a quality jihad on its hands.

Having a Six Sigma certification is a nice to have, however it does not guarantee you are a true believer nor does it guarantee to the organization someone with the insight of divine right has ascended to the leadership throne and will continue to preach a Six Sigma message. Revitalization can occur if the message is one of respect for complimenting initiatives. Belt mandates for leaders only lead to purgatory with future leaders tying pages of their Six Sigma manuals and certificates into ropes to climb into management heaven.

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