Throughout the world, both commercial and government organizations are engaged in efforts to improve their overall operations.

Government agencies are faced with a particular challenge when trying to improve operations – they may be dealing with smaller work forces without a reduction in deliverables. This presents the need to become more efficient in order to accomplish more with fewer resources. In order to make improvements, however, these agencies must first go through organizational transformation. Only through evolutionary change of leadership behavior will they begin to see positive results from their efforts.

The Current Situation

Over the years, organizations have implemented many strategies to try to become more efficient, including Lean Six Sigma. Not all, however, have found success. Sometimes this lack of success is due to organizations not fully adopting their chosen strategic initiatives.

Why are organizations not fully adopting the strategies? The answer is simple. Any strategic initiative, including Lean Six Sigma, must address the internal workings and culture of the organization. But what is the origin of the culture of the organization? Ultimately, the culture is driven by the behavior of the leaders. Initiatives like Lean Six Sigma cannot simply be about doing improvement projects. They must also plan for how the changed organization will work and how leaders will lead differently after adopting Lean Six Sigma as part of their organizational culture. Clearly, this type of change does not happen overnight.

Molecular Theory

Organizational change is not revolutionary – it is evolutionary. This is because change involves people and their behavior. For organizations adopting a strategic initiative like Lean Six Sigma, it may help to consider the world of molecules. Change typically takes place over four phases, shown here as a molecule gradually being absorbed into a larger object.

Phase 1 – Introduction of New Initiative

In this phase, the organization has announced the new strategy, and deployment of the initiative is underway. At this point, the reaction from many managers may be, “This initiative is OK for everyone else, but I do not need it.” This occurs because people do not like change forced upon them; they need to be part of the decision to change. In Figure 1, the large circle represents an employee’s perspective of their job, and the smaller Lean Six Sigma (LSS) circle is for someone else to worry about.

Figure 1: Introduction of New Initiative
Figure 1: Introduction of New Initiative

To facilitate progress through this change, a few things must occur, including:

1. Extensive, sustained top leadership commitment to stay with the initiative
2. Awareness training throughout the organization of what LSS is and what it means for the organization
3. Links between organizational strategies and how LSS will help reach strategic goals
4. An outline of what supporting LSS looks like and how managers will be held accountable

Phase 2 – New Initiative Is Still Here

At this point, the organization has had some success with LSS and some managers are starting to believe in it. The manager in Figure 2 supports the initiative, but the commitment is more verbal than behavioral.

Figure 2: New Initiative Is Still Here
Figure 2: New Initiative Is Still Here

To solidify their commitment, managers must understand:

1. How they should manage differently
2. What a leader must do to make sure the staff knows the initiative is for real
3. How to tie Lean Six Sigma into performance management plans and goals
4. The importance of publishing successes

Phase 3 – Support New Initiative But Sometimes Forget

At this point (Figure 3), excitement starts to generate. The new initiative is making things better. The organization has started making progress toward meeting its market share, profitability or customer delight goals. Overall, people within the organization are positive; however, when stressed, their behaviors resort to old habits.

Figure 3: Support New Initiative But Sometimes Forget
Figure 3: Support New Initiative But Sometimes Forget

During these periods of relapse, senior leadership must:

1. Reinforce behavior changes.
2. Address leaders who do not change and take appropriate action.

Phase 4 – Part of the DNA

Here, the new behaviors are integrated into how a manager manages (Figure 4). This change in behavior can either come about by a self-induced change by the manager or by senior leadership taking action and replacing people who are not adapting to the change.

Figure 4: Part of the DNA
Figure 4: Part of the DNA

At this point, there is nothing left to do but keep improving the organization and its processes and continually drive and support the initiative.

Leadership Takes Charge

As organizational transformation takes place, care must be taken to encourage and facilitate the changes in the leadership’s behavior, because that drives the culture of an organization.

As an organization starts down this path, senior leaders must:

1. Determine if there is a shared dissatisfaction with the current state. If they are the only ones unhappy with the current state and interested in making improvements, change will be even slower. They must work to help everyone in the organization understand why transformation is needed.
2. Create a vision of what the organization’s culture will look like.
3. Create a plan to get there, including the technical and behavioral changes needed.

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