For any major change initiative like Six Sigma to endure, it must become part of the culture of the business. Conducting interviews with the CEO and those who report directly to the CEO, as well as other key influencers is a great way to identify critical elements of success for the business as a whole and for the Six Sigma initiative itself. These interviews can uncover factors to shape deployment plans and to help successfully integrate Six Sigma into the company culture and environment.
The topics covered in such interviews typically include:

  • Experiences with change initiatives from the past. Are they still in place? Why or why not? Have they made people enthusiastic or cynical?
  • Understanding of corporate strategy and priorities:
    – Key competitive selling points of the organization and its products/services.
    – Key barriers that may hinder or derail deployment of strategy. A big one might be whether organization leaders think they can afford to dedicate a percentage of the workforce as full-time Black Belts.
  • Current attitude towards Lean Six Sigma. Do they see it as a means for accomplishing their goals? As a necessary evil?
  • How decisions are made and how conflict is resolved. Styles of decision-making, commitment to a team decision once made, support for divergent views, the level at which decision-making occurs.
  • What people consider key to their personal success within the organization. How are strategic planning and individual goals are aligned in performance evaluations?
  • How work gets done – collaboration vs. silos.
  • The organization’s and key individuals’ understanding of and experience with any element of Lean Six Sigma (processes, data collection, cycle-time reduction, best practice sharing, etc.).
  • Training history. What training has the company provided in the past? What skills have been emphasized? How well has it worked?
  • Union issues. To what extent will unions be a factor in the Lean Six Sigma implementation?
  • How strategies, goals, success measurements, and targets are cascaded throughout the organization. What structures and processes exist that determine improvement priorities? How is progress monitored and who participates in the processes?
  • Teamwork/collaboration. Is it there or is it lacking within the organization? Are there turf wars?
  • Openness to new approaches. How prevalent is the “not invented here syndrome”?

The answers to these questions can reveal the extent to which executing strategy is an issue, and can identify key cultural barriers which quality professionals may encounter during deployment. A skilled interviewer will be able to gain the confidence of interviewees and pick up on inconsistencies in the interpretation of roles and strategy. Because many major opportunities lie in the “white space” between functions, or in processes that cross traditional boundaries, you’ll need to know how willing different segments of the organization are to support cross-functional goals that may not directly benefit their part of the organization.

Finding and Leveraging the Key Influencers

In any organization, there is a core group of perhaps 5 to 10 percent of the employees who have a disproportionately large say about what does and doesn’t get done in the company. These are key influencers and they can be found anywhere from in the board room to behind the reception desk. Almost everyone in the company knows who they are. Their influence can arise from formal authority (P&L owners and those who report directly to them) or from a number of any other factors like personality, longevity, connections.

You can gain enormous leverage by focusing initial efforts on this relatively small percentage of the organization rather than trying to directly engage every single employee. By gaining the buy-in and enthusiasm of these high-leverage people, deployment, dissemination, and sustainability will come much more smoothly. The more key influencers you include in your interview process, the greater the chances that a Six Sigma deployment will progress smoothly and receive support.

What’s most important about the concept of key influencers is that you’re dealing with people throughout the organization – not just people dedicated to Lean Six Sigma deployment. This fact is incredibly powerful. Why? As a Champion at one otherwise successful example of Lean Six Sigma discovered, many of the richest opportunities are cross-functional. But addressing those opportunities was impossible if an individual silo leader or key influencer somewhere in the organization didn’t appreciate how Lean Six Sigma could help them and their staff. In fact, results in one division of that company are marginal because a key influencer keeps saying, “I don’t need this.”

Incorporating What You’ve Learned

The information learned from top management and key influencers can help define a communication strategy for Lean Six Sigma that will explain the what, why and “what’s in it for me” to everyone in the organization, even those not directly involved as Champions, Black Belts or Green Belts. Why is this important? Any changes made as a result of Lean Six Sigma have to be sustained by those who live with that job every day, and who aren’t part of the Lean Six Sigma infrastructure. You can avoid much of the resistance that occurs when changes are implemented by:

  • Fully understanding your organization (through the readiness assessment and interview process).
  • Engaging people in shaping the initiative in ways that support their personal goals (as well as those of your organization).
  • Making sure Lean Six Sigma resources are devoted to priority problems.
  • Positioning Lean Six Sigma resources (Black Belts, etc.) as support for line management.
  • Recognizing that resistance to change is a way that people defend current good performance; what Lean Six Sigma offers is the opportunity for great performance.
  • Training all top managers, creating enthusiasm rather than compliance.

Dr. Noriaki Kano, one of the premier shapers of the Japanese quality movement, once described the biggest barrier to successful implementation of any change strategy: “Too many managers act as if they are starting with a blank canvas. They introduce change without understanding what has come before. They have to start recognizing that every canvas in their organization has been painted already… usually several times over.” By first learning what’s on your canvas, you can make better decisions about how to structure and deploy Lean Six Sigma.

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