Q: Jack Welch, former CEO and chairman of GE, made the phrase “The Way We Work” popular among employees by associating it with the company’s Six Sigma initiative. Do you think he was successful in internalizing Six Sigma in all work processes and people at GE?
A: Jack Welch was successful in making it “the way we work.” In all probability Six Sigma is not in all GE work processes and it probably should not be.
From a change management perspective, there is a model that identifies various groups in an organization: 15 percent will change anything any time, 35 percent are early adopters, 35 percent are late adopters and 15 percent say “over my dead body.” I have not seen anything to substantiate the percentages, but the four groups definitely exist. In most organizations, doing a good job with the first three categories is sufficient. When approximately 85 percent have institutionalized a change, the last group will either drift over or the culture will alienate them to the point they look for other options.
From a Six Sigma and Lean perspective, you do not want to expend resources on all process. Unless you are completely leaned out, you will end up wasting resources improving non-value-added work. That is a losing strategy.
Q: What are the most critical factors involved in changing business processes so that Six Sigma is part of the “organization’s DNA”?
A: At an organizational level, they are alignment and accountability. A clear vision or burning platform supported by effective strategies is absolutely critical in setting expectations for the rest of the organization. Vertical and horizontal alignments get everyone on the same page. Vertical alignment assures that the people are lined up with the vision. Many companies talk about this but few do it well. Horizontal alignment makes sure the processes are lined up with the customers. Most companies don’t seem to realize this type of alignment is critical.
When expectations are clearly deployed throughout the organization, there has to be accountability. Another GE mantra is “make your numbers.” Your GE-to-English dictionary translates that as accountability.
At the personal level, the issue boils down to leadership and the ability to demonstrate the following elements to send a clear and consistent message that Six Sigma is how we do business here:
- Setting Focus – Demonstrates a relentless, consistent, unwavering view of the importance in driving continuous improvement actions via Six Sigma. No blinking when the tough choices have to be made.
- Structure – Leadership teaches, coaches and makes decisions via the same structures that all other organization members abide by – DMAIC. Leadership walks the talk and shows it every day in their actions.
- Discipline – Leadership demonstrates an unwavering discipline in fact- and data-gathering through DMAIC versus decision making with hunches/personal feelings. Leadership is fluent in Six Sigma and participates in teams. Leaders demonstrate discipline and role model Six Sigma for everyone in the organization.
- Ownership – Ownership is demonstrated through a strong knowledge of the DMAIC tools, the key questions frequently asked, and the care taken to nurture further Six Sigma growth in the organization.
- Resource Allocation – Leadership makes sure that everyone in the organization has the needed resources to take the Six Sigma actions necessary to do every job better and eliminate waste. Leaders challenge the way resources are allocated, always verifying that projects are being worked on and given the resources that will allow the projects to add to the organization’s overall performance.
- Involvement – That each employee can say: “I am just as involved as leadership in Six Sigma actions. Leaders routinely ask me questions about the black or green belt project I just completed. I know what other continuous improvement actions/wins have happened in my site because my leadership communicates with me regularly.”
Q: Some very successful salespeople view the Six Sigma methodologies (DMAIC and DFSS) as limiting their creativity. How can Six Sigma be incorporated into a salesperson’s processes?
A: The operative words are “successful salespeople.” The ones who seem to push back the hardest, when you look at the numbers, are not the top people. The one-to-one contact between a salesperson and a customer is very dynamic and fluid. It offers the least opportunity for improvement in terms of effort and probability of success.
If you have a successful salesperson, the intelligent strategy is to put them in situations where they can do what they do best. Work on marketing data and strategies, inside sales and lead qualification – that will put a successful salesperson in the most advantageous position. The followup to a successful sales opportunity is equally critical. That process needs to be flawless. It will create the opportunity for additional sales to an already-satisfied customer and a reference for new customers. It is typically the least expensive sale so there is business leverage in optimizing that process.
In Six Sigma terms there is no logic in tying up a successful salesperson in a process that does not deliver what was sold. That is rework and a waste of a valuable resource.
Q: Can you think of any role or function within a business that wouldn’t benefit from internalizing Six Sigma into the way they work?
A: I have never seen a process yet that did not have some opportunity. The more important question is “is there a business benefit?” Business benefit defined in the context of voice of the customer, voice of the business, voice of the employee.
When I was at Motorola in Sequin, Texas (USA), I had the opportunity to brainstorm with a group of janitors. They felt they had been left out of the Six Sigma effort. They had chosen to focus on clean restrooms. We defined defects and a measurement system. They collected and analyzed data. It was a lot of fun and worked well for them.
When you get that level of “pull” from the organization, then you are doing things correctly.
Q: At some point, can an organization that has internalized Six Sigma give up the name “Six Sigma” and have the same culture, which, in fact, is just the way they work? Have you seen this happen anywhere yet?
A: If a strategy, any strategy not just Six Sigma, over the long run is dependent on providing some false deity that people rally around, it hasn’t been institutionalized, i.e. enrolling people in the idea that it is the most efficient and effective way for them to think or behave. There is a saying that “no result + a good story = a result.” It is a little sarcastic but if you are dependent on the Six Sigma title for a result, you are probably still running on the good story.
I have not seen it recently. There is a commercial advantage to participating in a Six Sigma initiative. If you have read The Deviant’s Advantage, you can definitely recognize the transition from a fringe-dweller’s methodology to a more ritualistic approach. It seems to be caught between “the next cool thing” and “social convention,” so the title has become more robust.
When I was asked to consult with AlliedSignal Automotive in 1995, I had trouble figuring out what I was being asked to do. I had been gone from Motorola for three years and the name “Six Sigma” was not that well recognized in industry. The methodology was still the way I approached a problem regardless of the type of industry I was working in. You get to the point where you aren’t worried about if it is Lean, TQM, Six Sigma, TPM, etc. You are just doing the job. The companies where I have worked didn’t really care what I called what I was doing, provided there was a successful result.