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Knowledge Transfer Is the Key to Lean Six Sigma Culture

The Lean Six Sigma deployment climate has evolved from one of training internal resources as experts on implementing process improvement projects to a progressive and forward-thinking collective effort facilitating cultural change in an organization. Historically, with a few exceptions in large companies, most financial services organizations are behind in terms of adapting formal, continuous improvement programs in general – and Lean Six Sigma in particular. That is changing as more companies initiate Lean Six Sigma activities. The trend seems to be to build upon the foundation of training and an infrastructure with the goal of creating a Lean culture. Many companies are now engineering and executing transformational change by building on their current foundation of process improvement and facilitating the move to a culture of Lean service excellence.

The most forward-thinking organizations understand being Lean begins with culture and leadership, and is not strictly a focus on the tool set. There is no doubt some quick training and a few Kaizen blitzes can yield results in terms of waste reduction, cycle time reduction, overall process improvement and the associated financial rewards. This is a short-term Lean project mode, however, and is not a sustainable, transformational Lean Six Sigma culture.

A true Lean Six Sigma transformation must begin with people. A top-down and bottom-up approach is best when moving to a Lean culture. A Lean Six Sigma roadmap must enable serious Lean Six Sigma leaders to positively drive and communicate the Lean Six Sigma culture. Just as important, the other employees must be brought into the fold and empowered through training on Lean tools and a career path in that same culture.

Whether or not a company has built its internal capacities for executing Lean Six Sigma through consultants or has trained or hired Lean Six Sigma experts, certain things must be done to move from Lean Six Sigma capacity to a Lean Six Sigma culture. Knowledge transfer may be the most important.

Basic Elements of a Lean Six Sigma Culture

Like any organizational change, a company must have a plan in place and communicate the plan in order to evolve from a company simply having expert resources using Lean Six Sigma approaches to actually having a Lean Six Sigma-based culture. The following will accomplish this:

  • Program roadmap: How broad and deep should the program be, and how does it leverage the existing process improvement and business processes?
  • Lean strategy: Help the management team define and quantify a business strategy and establish performance indicators to gauge progress.
  • Tactical plan: Establish a Lean deployment that builds off the existing Six Sigma program by integrating training, tools and a few critical projects to achieve results on key performance indicators.
  • Cultural readiness: Create two-way communication plans and vehicles to create a voice for the new culture and to listen to what extent the organization is embracing Lean as the primary means of continuous improvement.
  • Deployment dashboard: Create metrics around the tangible measurements of success from the voice of the customer (VOC) and voice of the business (VOB) to determine true effectiveness.
  • Knowledge transfer: Conduct key training, coaching and audits to confirm progress and self-sufficiency.
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Knowledge Transfer Is Key

The least thought of and yet most important element may be the transfer of knowledge from the few experts to the organization as a whole. The philosophy is to create self-reliance and organic growth of the Lean Six Sigma program. The goal is to have knowledge transfer occur throughout the organization and include the company culture, leadership and the individual participants.

Determine Knowledge to Transfer: The knowledge to transfer is part of the initial deployment design and must take into account previously existing key skills and knowledge elements. Look for specific analysis tools or project management practices and examples to better fit the environment.

Building the Integrated Toolbox: If a significant need for integration has been identified, rapidly deploy a team of experts to accomplish the integration.

Transfer Knowledge: Interactive workshops and coaching sessions designed with many hands-on practice sessions, “teach backs” and real project applications are effective adult learning tools and ensure retention.

There are two types of knowledge transfer. The first is very specific job training often delivered in a classroom with supportive on-the-job coaching. The second type of knowledge transfer is less weighted toward classroom training and more to wards shadowing and on-the-job coaching. This method relies on trained change managers who use a variety of training and communication events to support the organization through a culture shift resulting in a work environment that is continually improving. Most likely, an organization will require both job training for new or revised jobs and a cultural revolution influencing a mind-shift and eventually a behavior-shift for all employees across the organization.

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A job training program may provide the following:

  • Job designs including job descriptions and competency modeling
  • Individual assessments using existing and/or newly developed tools to provide appropriate job matches, assignments and development plans
  • Organizational assessments to identify resource gaps, staffing needs and training needs
  • Training content development and delivery (train-the-trainer if appropriate)
  • Performance coaching program development and training
  • Ongoing performance management and evaluation program and training

A work culture shift program may include:

  • Implementation of targeted and integrated communications program
  • Design and implementation of highly visible, organization-wide continuous improvement program and process
  • Leadership and management training/coaching to model desired behaviors and practices
  • Design and delivery of training (classroom, computer-based training, other)
  • Revised performance management program integrating corporate values and desired behavior into job criteria and expectations
  • Development of targeted rewards and recognition programs
  • Design and development of ongoing communication vehicles to celebrate successes

Ongoing Support

Ongoing support for creating a Lean Six Sigma culture requires a few key roles and responsibilities, including leveraging an employee transition manager, a relationship manager and the deployment Champion to facilitate knowledge transfer and cultural adoption.

An experienced employee transition manager (ETM) assigned to the cultural shift effort specifically focuses on the “people issues” related to the Lean process culture changes. A senior manager partners with client leaders and managers to develop the plan for employee transition. A key component of the employee transition plan is the knowledge transfer plan. In many cases, the ETM continues to partner with client organizations long after the initial engagement to assist in identifying opportunities for continuous improvement or adjustment requirements resulting from changes in the business or environment.

The relationship manager also participates in the customization of the Lean culture rollout approach – as well as the material – working hand-in-hand with the internal rollout sponsor, and proactively participating in the governance of the process. Schedule weekly progress meetings to monitor progress toward established goals and receive feedback on the progress of the initiatives.

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The deployment Champion will assist with the facilitation of the executive kick-off and Champion training and thus will be able to see results and get feedback first-hand.

As with any kind of change in an organization the quality of the change effort is ultimately gained by listening to the voice of the customer. When creating a Lean Six Sigma culture, the customer is the entire organization and the transfer of knowledge is the best way for a deployment leader and change agent, the company is listening. When this occurs, the measurable impact will be the creation of a continuous learning organization that shares specific updates and newsworthy industry developments as a regular practice. The result – Lean and Six Sigma experts work together with the entire organization to create a dynamic learning environment and to incorporate new content into the existing training materials instead of standing still.

Conclusion

The heart of a successful plan for creating a Lean Six Sigma culture is the delivery of the agreed to outputs of the knowledge transfer program: training content, delivery, assessments, communication program, etc. Identify the success criteria for deliverables and then deliver. A company should develop success criteria for each step and milestone so it does not complete a program and then find the knowledge was not properly transferred. A challenge for any application of advanced learning is the transition from in-class understanding of principles and concepts to their practical implementation in your business environment. There should be Master Black Belts who are skilled in both Lean and Six Sigma methodologies with particular strengths in change management and knowledge transfer, and not only the tools. A successful knowledge transfer is often dependant upon issues and items beyond the scope of the project. The organization should identify and leverage those issues (such as management practices, reward systems, current human resources systems and policies) that go beyond tools and are change management related.

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