Who’s Your Jack Welch?

I was privileged recently to attend the American Society for Quality’s World Conference in Houston, TX. What an energetic gathering of quality-minded people!

One topic thatI heard a lot of conversation about was concern for leadership of Lean and Six Sigma. There were many stories shared of new deployments, attempted deployments, and failed deployments. One question that I’ve been asking, when I hear these accounts, is “Who was your Jack Welch?” In other words, who was the top executive that championed the initiative over all obstacles?

Too many times, I heard that the push for Lean or Six Sigma came from middle management – not a criticism of those individuals, of course, but if top executives don’t catch the fever, then the initiative can be treated as a hobby for someone down below. When the going gets tough, it’s easy to fall back on an excuse such as “Six Sigma’s not working for us.” As my MBB Todd Sperl used to say, it’s the difference between support and commitment.

Therefore,it was not a big surprise to read, in Michael Marx’srecent post Project Failure, that the number one reason for failure of Six Sigma projects was… no management support. I suspect that could read, instead, no top-level executive support.

So now, when I come into an oragnization that says they’re “doing” Six Sigma or Lean, I ask: “Who’s your Jack Welch?” The answer is always illuminating.

Comments 4

  1. Meikah

    Who’s your Jack Welch? Who’s your Deming? or Who’s your Bob Galvin? or Eli Goldratt? Doesn’t matter, really.

    What’s good about having a question like this is that you get to find out if your Six Sigma efforts are supported by the key people in your organization. Time and again it has been proven that management support is a key to successful initiatives.

    A very perceptive question, Sue!

  2. Gary

    I think the better question is who is your Bob Galvin?

    Bob Galvin is obviously my choice over Jack.

    I knew both men, Bob let a culture be developed without it being a brutal culture – people had fun at Motorola.

    Bob is also a man of the highest integrity.

  3. Sue Kozlowski

    Thanks, Gary and Meikah, for your comments. I agree that there are many candidates for being named in the question, but I’ve found that more people are aware of what Jack Welch did for Six Sigma at GE, than (unfortunately) Bob Galvin or other worthy champions at other organizations.

    I still quote Deming as well and have his "Fourteen Points" posted in my office, with my favorite still being the item related to constancy of purpose.
    –Sue K.

  4. Ian Furst

    It’s a great question Sue (in medical care we call the shotgun questions, very open ended but illuminating). For me, however, the most memorable part of Jack Welch’s leadership style was removing the bottom 5% (whatever the number was) of performers. I agree with the theory of removing the lowest performers but I’ve never used the technique for fear of breeding an atmosphere of insecurity. Set expectations yearly and if staff meet them it’s up to me to either raise bar. I sure many wouldn’t agree with the technique but I know that I couldn’t work an environment where I stood a 1/20 chance of loosing my job every year. As far as the champion for six sigma thought the question is perfect. Ian.

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