Many factors play a role in the success of a Lean Six Sigma Green Belt: support of top management, a well-defined and properly scoped project, a solid project team and more. One element that may be overlooked is the qualities of the candidates themselves. Everyone can contribute to continuous improvement efforts, but the Green Belt role is not for everyone. Too often, prospective Green Belts are selected for one specific characteristic or skill: a reputation for fixing problems, personal ambition, their specific job title or responsibilities, or an aptitude for statistics. While these may be part of the selection criteria, a more complete set of essential qualities is needed to ensure someone is suited to being a Green Belt.

When managers decide who will attend the next wave of Green Belt training, they must make the time to choose candidates who have all the qualities to be successful in this demanding role. Failure to do so can be damaging to the project, the project team and to the overall continuous improvement program. It is also detrimental to the person thrust into the Green Belt role who is unlikely to be successful in that position.

The following six qualities (in no particular order) are key for the successful Lean Six Sigma Green Belt candidate:

1. Perseverance

Green Belts must be change agents for their businesses, regardless of the level that they influence. Implementing change is difficult and almost always involves both technical and cultural obstacles. Some Green Belts struggle with an inability to work through resistance to change and become discouraged. Successful Green Belt candidates understand that pushback against change is inevitable and, indeed, part of being human; they face up to this resistance with determination. It is important to remember that a Green Belt is not a dedicated resource like a Black Belt. Green Belts must be focused and tenacious to carve out time from their normal job responsibilities to devote to their continuous improvement team and project.

2. A Logical, Analytical Mind

An individual with a logical, analytical mind may be perceived as having the math skills necessary to understand statistical analysis. While math ability is important, it may not be as crucial as being able to work a problem methodically and logically. Most organizations have people who are whizzes at “firefighting” problems; these are often the first employees sent to Green Belt training. Lean Six Sigma, however, requires that the Belts go beyond firefighting to fully understand the problem, measure the current state, identify and address root causes, and then put controls in place to prevent reoccurrence. Shooting from the hip is not sufficient for continuous improvement efforts, nor is putting a bandage on the issue. The successful Green Belt understands that the process for problem solving is as important as arriving at a solution. Many good Green Belts are problem solvers who are tired of the firefighting approach and are eager to embrace a better way.

3. A Passion for Improvement

Some candidates possess the people skills and the analytical ability to do the job, but are unable to see the need for improvement in their organizations. They struggle in the Green Belt role because they do not see the need to question the current processes, nor do they dig below the surface to get to the root causes of problems and inefficiencies. Managers should not draft their employees into Green Belt training; managers should instead seek out those who want to participate. The successful Green Belt candidate is one who is never satisfied with the status quo – who sees not just problems, but also opportunities.

4. Leadership Skills

The ability to understand and apply Lean Six Sigma tools by itself is not enough. The Green Belt is a project manager and a team leader. Like all project leaders, they must manage time and resources, assign tasks, follow-up and report results to stakeholders. They must understand how to motivate their team. They cannot be afraid to prioritize and make tough decisions. Green Belt leadership styles can vary from fiery to analytical to laid-back – as long as the individual style provides results.

5. Initiative

When Green Belts require prodding from their sponsors to move forward, energy is wasted. When Green Belts step up to the challenge and are proactive with facing problems, the team and the project’s stakeholders are able to be excited and engaged. In addition to their projects, Green Belts have a “regular” job. Proactive Green Belts are successful because they carve out time and actively seek out opportunities to move their projects along without letting day-to-day tasks sweep them away.

6. People Skills

In the long run, the so-called “soft” skills end up being more important to Green Belt success than the “hard” skills of technical knowledge. Overcoming resistance to change is futile if a Green Belt cannot understand and address the human factors in a company. A manager accustomed to working only with their direct reports may struggle in leading a cross-functional Green Belt team of people who report to others. Green Belt projects require buy-in from those involved; building that buy-in requires clear communication and an understanding of the needs and motivations of stakeholders. The successful Green Belt must understand and actively manage the dynamics of their team – seeking out and capitalizing on team diversity, having team members play to their strengths, and establishing team norms that make for a focused and effective environment.

A Lean Six Sigma Green Belt program can be an effective way for organizations to develop leaders and uncover hidden talent while improving the bottom line. Many great Green Belt prospects are not already in a leadership role, but are ready to step up and make a positive change in the company if identified. Careful selection of candidates for Green Belt training is the first step in the success of the person, the project and the program. Use these six qualities to decide who should be a Lean Six Sigma Green Belt in any organization – and set them up for success.

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