Jack Finney, president and CEO of Six Sigma Academy, offers his perspective on Six Sigma adoption and cultural issues – from strategies to convince resistant employees to maintaining a positive culture as the initiative matures and employees turn over.

Q: What employee adoption issues are associated with a new Six Sigma deployment?

A: The most common response from employees deploying Six Sigma is, “Here we go again!” Organizations that pursue improvement opportunities have often used other methodologies. The common question is: “What makes Six Sigma any different from the other initiatives we’ve tried? Why does this work any better than the programs we already have in place?”

There is often skepticism in the advertised benefits of Six Sigma; average cost savings of $250,000 per project seems like a lot of money, especially when it can add up to billions of dollars saved over several years. 

Effective deployments require full-time support from Black Belts, as well as significant time from others supporting Black Belt project teams. Providing those resources, and getting the day-to-day work done without the people deployed to do Six Sigma, often creates anxiety. 

A company asked, “Does Six Sigma apply here? It may work if you’re building pagers, but what about the kind of work we do?” Even among organizations with similar products and processes as companies that have successfully deployed Six Sigma, there is a strong conviction that they are somehow different so it won’t work here. 

Without the support of senior leaders, change initiatives are destined to fail. When employees see that their leaders are not providing the resources and necessary support for the deployment, they have an excuse not to support it themselves. 

Q: What strategies work well when it comes to training employees and convincing resistant employees to adapt to new ways of working? 

A: The ultimate convincer is success – achieving the goals and objectives that have been identified by the organization as critical for their continued success. However, just telling stories of successful projects doesn’t necessarily get all employees excited about Six Sigma. 

At one financial services company, there was significant discussion at the outset of the deployment around the integrity of results. They put financial gates in place to qualify projects that truly created bottom-line results, and then audited the projects one year after completion in order to ensure the results lasted. The audit verified that the results were real. Communicating the criteria surrounding projects and their subsequent success created credibility with those outside of the deployment. 

Another company created financial incentives for project results; not just for Champions, Black Belts and their teams, but also for the area where process improvements were made. The entire organization had a piece of variable compensation at risk for Six Sigma results, which created interest and support for the deployment. 

Communicating success stories with the intention of generating enthusiasm for Six Sigma does pay dividends. Any initiative that is not understood will be viewed skeptically. Sharing stories and encouraging participation in the effort excites those involved. Our experience shows that employee satisfaction scores are higher for those involved in Six Sigma than the rest of the organization. 

Q: Do you recommend that companies review their culture before implementing a Six Sigma initiative? How is that review used when assembling their deployment plan?

A: Absolutely. A Black Belt working projects can deliver significant savings to an organization. However, without the support and focus of the organization, a Six Sigma deployment will not alter how people behave and solve problems, and thus, achieve the substantial improvements that successful Six Sigma deployments offer. 

There is no one right way to deploy Six Sigma. The infrastructure and support for a successful deployment should be contingent on the culture of the organization, and the context of the times that Six Sigma is deployed. An understanding of the culture and context offers insights into opportunities and barriers to address when trying to gain the support of employees in embracing Six Sigma. 

Culture is defined by the norms and values – both formal and informal – that an organization lives by. Understanding the cultural readiness for a change initiative will facilitate decision-making around the topics of Black Belt selection, retention and repatriation. This cultural readiness knowledge will help shape all aspects of a successful deployment.

Q: How can companies maintain a positive culture and momentum for Six Sigma as the initiative matures and employees turn over?

A: The Six Sigma methodology is most successful when integrated into a company’s business strategy, and not deployed merely as an off-the-shelf tool kit or a set of training sessions. Though many corporations initially consider Six Sigma only for profitability, they quickly learn that Six Sigma is the best business transformation program available today. The real benefit of Six Sigma is the culture change to becoming a customer-focused, fact-based, data-driven organization. The ultimate measure of Six Sigma success is when your company can say “It is the way we work.”

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