When Black Belts “Go Native”

Nayism 33: Our department has had several Black Belts who completed projects that drove positive change but since they have been repatriated, it’s been business as usual. If this Six Sigma stuff was that good, why don’t the Black Belts keep doing projects once they return to the organization?

Here’s a perfect example of how cultural norms can squelch even the best change efforts. How does this happen? Here’s what I say . . .

When high potential employees are assigned the Black Belt role, their mission is clear: Apply the Six Sigma methodology to make the business better. Even in organizations that have not really bought into Six Sigma, effective Black Belts (driven by their passion for success) find ways to engage people to implement the positive changes resulting from projects. It’s a tough task with constant challenges but it’s “their job.” At times the Black Belt may feel like a salmon swimming against the cultural norms of “business as usual.” So what happens when the Black Belt repatriates?

Once repatriated, working projects is no longer the Black Belts full time job. Even if the Black Belt is an avid believer in the methodology and wants to continue working projects, without the sponsorship and buy-in of the organization, it is just too hard. There is no reward for change. Instead, rewards are bestowed on those who stick with the cultural norms. The mission is no longer clear and being a top performer in this organization means “fitting in.”

In a perfect world, good would drown out evil. But in the real world of ‘business as usual,’ this black belt is expected to swim with his peers in the same school of thought. Breaking away leaves the Black Belt isolated and exposed to premature extinction. For most, the instinct to survive is greater than the drive to change – and that’s why Black Belts “go native.”

Comments 3

  1. Annon


    This post is really the fact about how difficult it becomes for the black belts to survive than to make the change possible if there is limited or no support from the Top management, who at the time of recruiting these black belts convince the whole world that the six sigma culture would be taken to the highest limits.

    No matter how good the BB is, he/she will get lost in this unsupportive group of people. They remain there in the organisation with the hopes that they can and will make the change possible only to find that it is they who will have to change as per the organisation…..

    Very good post…

  2. Tad O’Reidy

    This is a very interesting phenomenon. It points out the difference between the exercise of power (management) and leadership. If the BB uses the company power to implement a control plan, then the probability for change is low, as most processes regress to the mean performance with ease as the prime value. Leadership is getting people who disagree to with you or the company to change. In a Lean implementation this is to change in a way that benefits the customer. Very few BB’s I have seen are capable of the time consuming and inefficient practice of leadership. Using power is an immature simplistic response, where leadership is an exercise of wisdom. This is not just an opinion, but is supported by a very large body of empirical research.

  3. CheersEasy

    The conflict appears to come from within the ’teachings’ of leadership. As a Change Agent you are of the people, for the people and with the people, which can be misconstrued as being a ’buddy’ and therefore leaving you ineffective as a leader in the eyes of management peers.
    Basic details like subject matter knowledge, experience, the relatively young age (physically and/or mentally) of the Six Sigma community and the fact that Six Sigma is still not considered a true progression to management all count against us. With luck we can prove through our actions that we are worthy peers and that the changes we bring are welcome and acceptable to the floor.

    It is us that will form the top level management a few years from now, so it is us that these blogs will be written about – it is our duty to hold true to the belief that change is good, to lead from the floor and prove to the next generation of management that ’the way things have always been done’ is not how we intend to run our businesses, that we invite change, improvement and innovation where it adds value to our customers and our companies.

    OK, I am off the soap box – keep up the good work you all do

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