No Desire for Six Sigma

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    Frustrated Quality Professional

    I work for a large insurance company and work directly under the Quality Director.  Recently, we finished doing operational quality assessments using VOC and metrics (approach & deployment) as the criteria.  After conducting the interviews, I concluded that quality awareness was at the infant level, and that several people were insulted that we assessed their approach to quality so poorly.  Before the assessments, we sent out a non threatening note to the business heads explaining the purpose of these assessments and our intentions of helping the units achieve financial savings thru process improvement efforts. 
    The results of all this were extremely discouraging:
     – several executives thought their shot gun approach to quality was acceptable (if it aint broke, don’t fix it) and acted angry and insulted when rated otherwise
     – several voice mails sent by me went unanswered
     – my quality director is taking an “avoidance approach” to conflict with these other executives – says it isn’t worth the political damage it’s doing to him.  She did mention though, that she would seek help from above if necessary.
     – voice of the customer is last on the list because “Insurance is a commodity industry with no real product differentiation for the consumer” (based on price)
     – we get to choose our customers through the underwriting process and raise rates at will (my own assumption)
     – it has been stated recently by one HR Trainer that the “Six Sigma” paradigm would never fit our culture here at Insurance company X
    How shall I proceed in trying to communicate the benefits of the quality/process improvement effort?….or is it a useless and formidable task at this point?  Keep in mind that I am not currently at the management level, but am in a leadership program here.
    I would appreciate any comments.  By the way, does anyone currently know of an Insurance company deploying Six Sigma? 
    Frustrated Quality Professional



    That is a very challenging issue. You are facing resistance!!
    There is 4 kinds of resistance:
    psychological: human beeing hate to be change
    ideological resistance: they beleive it will violate the fundamentals that have made the organization what it is
    powerdriven resistance: afraid their powers will extinguish over time, they will lose selcontrol
    cognitive resistance: it ain’t broken, why fix it?
    It is part of the BB and MBB training in our organization: kinds of resistances and what to do. We link some actions to face it. Unfortunatly, the books on Six Sigma don’t treat a lot of the human aspect and this is probably the most challenging things in a project.
    And also, very important, the initiative should flow from top to down. Otherwise, you may lose your time and hurt yourself.


    Niraj Goyal

    I appreciate your problem and relise the issues you face.
    I would recommend that you have to tackle the mindset at the top of the organisation. For this you need an external consultant who is very good at creating a mindset in senior management – normally 2 day workshop should be enough.
    I have done work on reducing error reduction in digitising data with spectacular results – see case study on isixsigma entitled “digitising data”, which is in many ways an example of a case applicable to insurance also. In fact I ma in the process of trying to persuade an insurance company to start and they have reacted well to the first 2 overtures.
    You can also read past comments of Gary and Cone on successes in Insurance Industry pasted on this site.
    If you need any further informatiob or help please do not hesitate to contact me at [email protected]


    Jaran S.

    I suggest you read ” Making Six Sigma Lat ” by George Eckes.
    Be strong and take courage.
    Jaran S.


    Jim Johnson

    I agree with the advice that you have been given thus far and would only add a couple of things:1. “For the Six Sigma Breakthrough Strategy to take off within an organization, it must have upper management’s full support.” from “Six Sigma: The Breakthrough Mehtodology Revolutionizing The World’s Top Corporations”. The obvious way to accomplish this is for someone within your organization’s executive suite to take ownership of introducing Six Sigma…in other words have a very strong advocate who is willing to take the risk. Without this kind of person, it is doomed to failure particularly in an organization like an insurance company that doesn’t view the customer’s viewpoint as necessary for viability.2. Assuming that you are able to achieve step 1, then the very next challenge that you will face is getting advocacy from the other echelons of management in the company. You will often here Six Sigma referred to as “another flavor of the month” when this type of thinking exists. The only way that I know of to combat this is to have a number of very visible very bottom-line focused successes using the methodology.I want to close with a question for you. Are you certain that this is the right company for you at this point in your career? It doesn’t sound like the management of the organization realizes the importance of the customer in the success equation. Any company with leadership like this (particularly an insurance company) may be subject to a name change (and an ownership change) in the near future.If your management is truly focused on price and believes that it represents the only competitive advantage that they bring to the market in which they compete, then you must find a way to sell Six Sigma as a price enhancer, i.e., reducing operating costs which allows you to either:a. increase margins
    b. reduce prices Either way, it sets the stage for the company to be more successful and to experience long-term growth.I would bet that you are very manually intensive in the processes that are used to service accounts. This comes at a great expense as well as a very large opportunity for variation in your processes. In order to sell this kind of concept to senior management, you really have to see the game from their perspective….not yours.If you still can’t get an advocate…..look for a company where you can be enthusiastic about working, not where you are frustrated.I hope that this helps.Jim Johnson


    Cedric Brown

    Chapter 2 of the Six Sigma Revolution by George Eckes explains how to apply six sigma startegically. This may be your best approach with executives.
    Cedric Brown – MBB



    GE’s insurance operation uses Six Sigma extensively, and very successfully.  One story passed along by one of their executives involved reducing casualty losses in city garbage trucks they insured… seems they tend to get filled with methane and explode.
    When you are in a commodity business, how you appear to the customer is one of your key differentiators.  If the interface works cleanly and quickly, that’s a competitive advantage.  That’s fertile ground for Six Sigma… been there, done that (but not for insurance).


    John McT

    Everything that I have read says that support for a Six Sigma program has to come from the top down. I work for a large Insurance and Banking company in Australia which has recently implemented Six Sigma, and although we have strong support from Senior Management there are still some managers in the organisation who are not enthusiastic, although overall we are getting some good results from our projects.
    I think it gets down to “you don’t know what you don’t know” and it is your challenge to get them to realise this.
     I’m happy to discuss some Insurance specifics with you via email [email protected]


    Ron Jarrett

    They will get interested when their business is threatened by Japan, Mexico & China like those of us in the manufacturing sector.
    I am a former consultant & worked with two insurance companies a few years ago trying to improve their quality systems. I found the same thing to be true that you are finding. Unfortunately, for the rest of us who pay for it, your industry is extremely profitable and nobody sees a reason to rock the boat. Shame on them.



    Lets apply a 6 sigma principle to your problem.  Look at your DATA!  You have the results of a survey, feedback from other manager, and feedback from your own supervisor.  Results?  WE DO NOT WANT 6 SIGMA or and other quality “help” from you or your organization.
    Look to your own boss, she is privy to information that you do not have.  She may be just waiting for her next position and does not want to rock the boat.
    Too many times 6 Sigma folks like to espouse the merits of listening to the VOC.   Do you know who your biggest customer is?  Who has the biggest voice in what you do?  The management team!  If you make trouble for other people trying to implement 6 sigma without your boss’ endorsement, your boss will be put in a position of looking like she does not have the ability to make you a better team player.  If she has a problem, who has a problem?
    The business world is full of political whims and winds.  IF you are not happy with an environment that does not support 6 sigma.  Find another environment.  Or change your concept of what makes you happy.
    6 Sigma is a good thing, it may not be for every organization.  Unless you have a mandate from upper management, it is NOT your job to try to convince middle management of anything.
    I have a story that sort of applies to the advice I am trying to impart.  There was a bird who decided to wait until too late to fly south for the winter.  Its wings iced up and it fell into a barnyard where it though it was going to freeze to death. 
    As it lay there a cow walked over and took a dump on it!  The warmth melted the ice and raised the birds spirits.  So much so that it began singing.  The barnyard cat heard the chirping and came over and ate the bird.
    There are three lessons:
    1. People who crap on you are not always your enemies.
    2. People who get you out of crap are not always your friends.
    3. If you are up to your neck in crap and it is not so bad, keep your mouth shut.
    Hope this helps



    While I don’t agree with Scott’s story about the bird (and cow and cat), I do agree with the point he is trying to make.
    I don’t know what level you are in your organization.  But if you don’t have a really strong advocate in management, FORGET IT.  I believe that you will be ‘hung up to dry’.
    Unless you have a strong advocate OR are highly regarded in your company (have key influence), I believe you are in a no win position and I would GET OUT.
    Been there.  Done that.  Not pretty.  Thought it would be different for me — it wasn’t.



    Do not be discouraged!!!  Find out what is important to Management and show how Six Sigma impacts it.  Often the benefits of Six Sigma are not immediately apparent to Management.  Stay the course and show the financial and productivity gains available via Six Sigma.  If you can convince one influential Manager to Champion your cause that’s a start.  Remember, it only takes a spark to start a fire. 
    All the best and anything worth achieving is worth working for.



    I guess we are all frustrated when it comes to implementing and creating a six sigma strategy yet, It is clear that SS isn’t very well suited to some executive management that are still OLD SCHOOL.
    I take note that you are from an insurance background and, I would advice you to look at the tools that are available to you through QFD (quality function deployment), six sigma only touches the surface of QFD and, I have read reports of the great success of organizations that are using the QFD approach to continuous quality improvements and the VOC, I would add that the VOP (voice of the process) is rarely spoken of regarding employee input and measurables and, the fact that many organizations fail to educate and empower employees regarding knowledge of variation and systems thinking, Deming’s literature is good for that and, you may wish to look at Glenn Mazur’s publications regarding the proper use of QFD.



    Its all about “survival”.  Tell execs quality programs will help the company “survive”.  If they’re happy with being #25, then look for another job. If the company is number 3, tell them quality programs will help them move ahead, and if #s 1 and 2 are into quality programs, tell execs you can help them get bump the leaders down to #2 and #3 respectively. Give execs some ROI numbers also.  If theys still won’t buy in and let you do your job, go job hunting.  No sense leading ” a quiet life of desparation” !!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Bob H.


    Frustrated TOO!

    You cannot create a Six Sigma organization from the bottom up. If you don’t have management’s buy-in, you’re spinning your wheels. Consequently, you’re left with one option, to use Six Sigma personally as a problem-solving tool.
    You should focus on aligning you’re circles of influence and concerns. Otherwise you’ll make yourself miserable


    muhannad al nabulsi

    I would recommend the following steps:
    *starting  a company-wide awarness campaign
    **building “six-sigma’ task force,preference :cross-functional one
    ***Identify some feasible targets to be achieved(%-wise…etc)
    ****establish an exceutive manag.comittee,for validation of decisions
    *****construct an action plan ,based on that
    ******Try to obtain “top management “support & committment.
                 good luck                         M.NABULSI  


    muhannad al nabulsi




    Can you use 6sig on a project on your own?  If you can quietly make some significant improvements you have something to take to the leadership.  I would suggest getting your immediate manager in the loop before going on up the ladder if not sooner.  It sounded like she would like to see a program like this implemented, but is at risk politically.  If she would support you and drive improvements in her domain, I think she would become a more vocal advocate.



    there are several insurance companies in Brazil using 6 sigma for everything from product design forward. They are comning into the US market next year. Tell your guys to just sit pat, they will not need to worry about it soon.


    John Hansen

    If the very top management can’t see the value in improving quality, you simply can’t make it happen. There are ways to convince them. Just take one minor cost area, apply some techniques, gather cost savings results and create a SHORT report. Send it to the highest levels of the organization with a projection of what it would mean if you took it system-wide and hope you get a phone call. If not, look elsewhere.



    My one cent:  The question transcends 6S, it is asking a fundamental question essential to the success of small unit operations:  How do we get people to do what they don’t want to do so they can accomplish what they want to accomplish?  I have found 5 ways to exert influence:
    1.  Principle :  Influence derived from principled, honorable action
    2. Expert :  Influence dervied from demonstrated subject knowledge
    3.  Referrent :  Influence due to “likability” or friendship
    4.  Legitament :  Influence evoked from positional authority (RHIP)
    5.  Coercive:  Influence born through accolades/discipline
    The areas of influence become less effective as you move through them (1-5) and are optimized when all 5 are brought to bear upon a change agent.  Wrap your chosen communication strategy in as many layers of influence as possible, then expose it (the strategy that is)  to a maximum number of decision makers …….good luck!


    Dave P

    Chad and Guy have it right!Too often I hear people moaning about lack of “top management” support as the key. Its true, but it comes later … AFTER you have some proven results to show them.My personal experience in an insurance company has been that the finacial guys have the real power. Find a way to use them as your “Champions” for a significant finacial problem within the company and use the Six Sigma methodologies to improve it. Financial data is extremely powerful in these organizations.A big program is great but most times it all has to start with a few succesful projects and then these people will be coming to YOU!!!!Good Luck!!!

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