Nayism 33: Our department has had several Black Belts who completed projects that drove positive change but since they have been repatriated, it’s been business as usual. If this Six Sigma stuff was that good, why don’t the Black Belts keep doing projects once they return to the organization?

Here’s a perfect example of how cultural norms can squelch even the best change efforts. How does this happen? Here’s what I say . . .

When high potential employees are assigned the Black Belt role, their mission is clear: Apply the Six Sigma methodology to make the business better. Even in organizations that have not really bought into Six Sigma, effective Black Belts (driven by their passion for success) find ways to engage people to implement the positive changes resulting from projects. It’s a tough task with constant challenges but it’s “their job.” At times the Black Belt may feel like a salmon swimming against the cultural norms of “business as usual.” So what happens when the Black Belt repatriates?

Once repatriated, working projects is no longer the Black Belts full time job. Even if the Black Belt is an avid believer in the methodology and wants to continue working projects, without the sponsorship and buy-in of the organization, it is just too hard. There is no reward for change. Instead, rewards are bestowed on those who stick with the cultural norms. The mission is no longer clear and being a top performer in this organization means “fitting in.”

In a perfect world, good would drown out evil. But in the real world of ‘business as usual,’ this black belt is expected to swim with his peers in the same school of thought. Breaking away leaves the Black Belt isolated and exposed to premature extinction. For most, the instinct to survive is greater than the drive to change – and that’s why Black Belts “go native.”

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