iSixSigma

Keeping an Organization Healthy

I’m sure most of you have seen infomercials for get-fit-quick gimmicks. There’s a man on the TV who excitedly tells you of a way to lose weight and get fit in seven days. We fall for these gimmicks time after time with the same result … a new contraption that sits unused, except as a place to hang your clothes.

Why does this happen? Because we want the quick fix with minimal investment. Organizations are often guilty of the same type of thinking in regard to investment in process improvement. Companies also fall prey to quick fix schemes for Lean Six Sigma deployments. This is due in part to the lack of buy-in by the organization and the lack of education about what a true implementation involves. Someone in the company makes a snap decision to add a Lean Six Sigma program to and sends an employee out to a course to become a Green Belt. This person is then expected to return to the organization and “save the world.” Another key input is the the service provider of the training and deployment. Many companies do not do their due diligence to understand the true investment for an implementation. These companies believe the service providers’ claims that the quick fix will work. The aftermath of these endeavors is seen in failed 5S attempts, Six Sigma projects that have reverted back to the old way and deployments that have put on the back-burner because of the lack of a quick change in performance.

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When I am asked by people “What do you do,” I answer “I am like a fitness trainer for your organization – except that I focus on the health of your processes – not necessarily the people.” Organizations investing in process improvement are investing in the health of their company. People who have significantly improved their health and sustained that improvement know that this takes time and discipline. There is story after story of companies that start with good intentions, but because of the desire for a quick fix and the inherent lack of focus, discipline and buy-in, they change direction before getting truly started.

The resulting data of companies’ quick fixes is often the same as those fitness contraptions that are now holding our clothes. Einstein said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” My interpretation of Einstein’s quote is that we have to change the way we think when our current path does not result in the required outcome. When I use this quote, I often follow with “What is the definition of insanity?” Someone will eventually answer “to do the same thing over and over and expect different results.”

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I have a good friend who was overweight; her health was declining. She was on several medications. She smoked and drank alcohol often, among many other bad habits. She tried many quick fixes to regain her health. Nothing worked. Why? Because she didn’t change her culture. She didn’t change her habits. One afternoon, she had a mild heart attack, which happened in part because of her use of diet pills on top of her declining health. This was the burning platform that altered her way of thinking. Today, she runs several miles a week and has made the choice to be a vegetarian. She has lost more than 50 pounds and she is off all medication.

Why do I share her story? Because most companies do not have the mild heart attack to shock them into the realization of the result of their current unhealthy path. These organizations follow a vicious circle: my costs are high ? we reduce full-time employees ? quality suffers ? costs rise. These companies may decide to train a few Green Belts or even Yellow Belts and insert them into the vicious circle to focus on processes. These quick fixes only speed the circle up. Eventually these bad habits lead to layoffs, facility closures and eventual demise.

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How can we increase the chance of our deployment’s success? From my background as an instructor for Lean Six Sigma training and deployments, I have come to believe that most failures come from a lack of understanding of the target, or goal, in terms that all who are involved can understand equally – the key performance indicators. There have been implementations in which subject matter experts were not educated on the changes that were coming their way. This leads to those employees being very guarded and defensive. They start to think, “Am I improving myself out of a job?” This will kill an implementation quickly. Another key variable to a successful deployment is what we call “the stomach.” This is the plan and the discipline to get to the target with measurable results. Unfortunately, many companies lose their stomach at the first sign of adversity or hierarchical push back.

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We all know that to truly alter your health positively takes hard work, perseverance and discipline. For most of us, it also takes a good support system. It is no different for an organization.

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