Another Way of Looking at Things…

From a building in the centre of Glasgow a team continues to grow, spread and populate one of the world’s largest financial institutions. The team is ours, the mission (which we duly accepted) was to change the way things were done, to build and prepare for growth and to change an embedded culture of ‘that’s the way it’s always been’.

Now, 2 years since inception, the comforting arms of Six Sigma change are morphing the team into a machine of financially prioritised change work which, although valid in today’s dog eat dog world, I personally have to ask the question – “how long can it last?”

I mean, is Six Sigma change a large scale cost cutting exercise hidden under a veil of due process or is it a vehicle of full scale change in corporate culture? The question is one I, personally, believe is tending towards the former… and that is not a good thing!

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I believe the children are the future… oops, sorry wrong blog… ahem…

I will admit, I am not a capitalist and have a tendency to show attributes that are sometimes described as idealistic or even ‘hippy’ but I know I’m not the only one that is beginning to believe that many Six Sigma deployments (for reasons of diplomacy I will not mention if our deployment is included in this statement) are missing their opportunity to change a business not from the account book but from the heads of the people contributing to the account book.

A guy called Robert Dilts produced a model of change called the Neuro-Logical levels (based on earlier work by Gregory Bateson). This model explained how to produce the most profound change in individuals and groups of individuals. Now, the more I study this model and the more I hear about Six Sigma deployments, the fewer I realise are doing anything that is going to create the easily maintainable, long term change in an organisation that our jobs as BBs are initially created for.

The model itself is structured as a hierarchy and I have reproduced it in its most basic format below:


In summary of the model, to generate change in any given individual or group of individuals you can change their environment and it will work. For example, I know as BBs we have probably all been involved in producing trackers, posters, dashboards, team positioning etc. and it will work for a while…but eventually the old behaviours will start again because you’ve not changed them. So you can change the behaviour, change processes, remove steps, build systems and you will see the team themselves begin to change their environment to fit their new behaviours…excellent stuff, but it doesn’t change the fact if a group or individual is not capable to do a task then they will not perform. And so we can change the capabilities of a team/organisation through training and hiring new staff…I’m sure you’re getting the idea now – the higher up the hierarchy you go the longer lasting and more pervasive the change.

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Now we get into the tough stuff and where I believe the Six Sigma that I have witnessed lacks its real punch. How do we go about changing the beliefs of an organisation or even the identity of an organisation when all our targets, leadership and drive are coming from affecting the bottom line of the hierarchy – the financial environment. If we, as change professionals, want to create change in our organisations we have to start affecting the belief systems and corporate and team identities that hold our businesses back only then can we claim to be purveyors of long term change to an organisation.

This is easier said than done. To make this type of change we need time, training, and strong leadership. We need the skills to inspire as well as manage. We cannot run a Chi-Square on a lack of belief or a confused corporate identity! I’ve got my ideas on some of the approaches we can take and I’ll stick up a post in a couple of weeks time as I’m hoping that this post may spark some debate. As a side note – if you have a way to bring Spirituality to your organisation through Six Sigma then go ahead however that may be taking it a step too far!!

I believe Six Sigma is a great model for change. However, I also believe, if Six Sigma wants to survive, it has to evolve and I don’t know if it has the will or the want to do that. Therefore, as I said at the beginning, my questions remains ‘How long can it last?’

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Happy New Year.

Comments 5

  1. Mike Carnell

    About the only thing that a person can say after reading your blog is "where have you been?" Six Sigma is not a great model for change and never has been. Six Sigma, actually DMAIC, is great for solving problems. It doesn’t now and never has been a change model. The idea of Six Sigma as the silver bullet was sold by a particular consulting company in the mid 90’s. The people who did the actual work on those deployments, because they had actually done this at Motorola, took with them skills in terms of Lean, change management, program management, etc.

    In terms of a hippy fighting capitalism? It is business and it is driven by ROI. Six Sigma doesn’t get deployed for the good of mankind. If you don’t like that model you might try writing poetry or weaving or macromay. Does ROI have to come from cost savings? Go read Mike Cygers pet peeves – SS does not have to be about cost cutting. try looking at your throughput and see what opportunities there are.

    At the risk of this being a harsh reply, if you are responsible for a deployment or even if you just have input into one you need to pay attention to what is going on. You are figuring out stuff that people were figuring out ten years ago.

    Just my opinion.

  2. Brian Costello

    Well…thank you for your frank reply!

    Your point on ROI coming from other places other than cost savings is exactly my point. Our ROI is almost entirely based on cost saving and cost saving is currently our principal driver in project selection. Hence the article.

    I am relatively new to the world of Six Sigma and without the length of service, historical SS knowledge or multiple deployment experience of others reading the blogs I may have inadvertently touched on a SS sore point here.

    To be honest, I still believe that Six Sigma (in a service industry like mine) has an opportunity to be a vehicle for significant organisational and cultural change on top of its obvious problem solving ability. If that is through the addition of extra ’softer’ skillsets then why would we deny it? Is it not more of an evolutionary step for Six Sigma to adopt these extra skillsets than to deny their existence?

    Also, yes it is business and I believe that by adopting a more holistic approach to problem solving and change the ROI can become significantly greater and, as mentioned in the article, more pervasive as people begin to identify and believe in the model and generate the change themselves. Would you agree? Perhaps it’s already happening?

    I really thank you for your reply as strong debate is exactly why I posted the article. I understand my SS awareness is not as wide as others and I’ll be interested to hear what others have to say and welcome more comments.


  3. Mike Carnell

    I am not sure why you are into the idea that SS must adopt something else. You need to assess what your business needs and put together a package that makes sense for your business. Lets use your change management as an example. You see that your business needs more of that so it should be added to the basic SS methodology. Now we have SSCM. We take it over to GE who laid the groundwork for change long before thay did SS by creating the Change Acceleration Process (CAP). They aren’tinterested in your SSCM – they have CM.

    If you try to create this Holy Grail for company transformation then you will end of with something that doesn’t fit anyone. Whay is holistic for your company is easily redundant for someone else. You need to take a more holistic approach to your companies change efforts and figure out what you need as a company rather than trying to change a hammer into a wrench.

    There are books available from authors such as Tom Devane ("Integrating Lean Six Sigma and High Performance Organizations: Leading the Charge Towards Dramatic, Rapid and Sustainable Improvement"). You will find that this book has been on the market a while. Needing more than SS is not going to be a novel idea that will drive much strong debate as much as strong response.

    Just my opinion

  4. Sue Kozlowski

    Hello gentlemen,

    Would you accept as a premise that every company which "deploys" Lean Six Sigma, does so for different reasons and in a different way?

    We started with a pure ROI model – if you couldn’t predict solid savings (preferably in decreased staffing levels), the project didn’t get approved. We soon found out that other benefits, such as customer satisfaction, smoother downstream operations, etc. were also worthy, and now we do projects that are strategically focused but may not have large individual ROIs. Adding Value Stream Mapping and lean tools to our Six Sigma structure has been incredibly helpful for us.

    Also, the deployment will reflect the focus of the Lean Six Sigma Champion. If they’re doing it for cost savings – or just because everyone else is doing it – that will become apparent. If they’re whole-heartedly committed to this methodology, or just going along for the ride – that will be evident as well.

    My favorite question to organizations is, "Who’s your Jack Welch?" At GE, was he after savings? You bet. Did he transform his organization (at least while he was there)? You bet. I think it’s really less about the methodology – and more about the leader!

    Thanks Brian for sharing the Dilts model – that’s a new one for me – and I’m looking forward to hearing more about your ideas in your next post.

  5. Mike Carnell

    I agree that every company does it differently or at least should. Not in the methodology but in the environment around the methodology. There is also a common element of change management as a general issue. The specifics around change vary considerable based on company culture. Change was much easier to execute at GE during the first year of the deployment because they had a culture that had embraced CAP. Does that mean everyone should use CAP? No. Change is heavily influenced by company culture i.e. GE is was just accepted that a change was to be implemented and the discussion was around how. Many other companies with a much softer culture go through some consensus type process.

    That wasn’t the issue. Does SS need to incorporate other disciplines. No. The people deploying SS need to be smart enough to understand what they are dealing with in terms of their company culture and decide what initiatives need to be integrated to effectively transform their company. It will virtually never be the same combination done the same way.

    Is this news? No. I have written the January article for ASQ of 3.4 for 6 years and almost every article was about change. Anyone who has done more than one deployment understands there is more than SS involved. A guy named Larry Bossidy wrote a book about it called "Execution."

    The initial GE deployment was not about cost savings. It measured ROI because they are good business people. It was about market position.

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