Most companies do a good job of selecting Black Belts candidates, however, many overlook psychological aspects of candidates. This factor is important because deployment Black Belts, in particular, have an unusual amount of stress put on them.

By Sean C. Rast

One of the main success factors in a company-wide Six Sigma deployment is the selection of the first wave Black Belts. Much has been written about how to select the right candidates – what type of skills they should have, what background they should have and generally what makes a good candidate. Deployment leaders talk about soft skills, technical skill, communication skills and other important aspects of a successful candidate. However, even if all the right criteria are used in the selection process and the skills seem evident, Black Belts often fail to realize the success of which they were initially thought capable.

The reason is that many companies overlook an important factor when selecting Black Belts – psychological aspects of candidates. Of course, everyone assumes the people they have selected are psychologically stable, but deployment Black Belts in particular will have an unusual amount of stress put on them.

During the intense Black Belt training candidates are not only taught a series of new tools, but also in many cases a complete new way of solving business challenges. Throughout the training a new internal thought process is being developed, a new way of looking at issues is being taught, and this can often cause internal conflicts for the Black Belt.

Recently a candidate going through Black Belt training suddenly became completely de-motivated. He had been with his company for more than 20 years. As one would expect, his trainer asked him why. Was it because of the material taught? Was the pace too fast? Was it anything related to the training? His answer was completely different: He said he could now clearly see how he had been “fire fighting” all this time. That for 20 years he had been going directly from problem to solution, without any consideration of the many other factors that could have possibly influenced the problem he was trying to solve. This was hard for his ego to process.

Black Belt Training Can Create Concerns

Other candidates have come back after or during training with other concerns.

‘If I Can See It, Why Can’t Anybody Else?’ – If Black Belt training is done correctly, Black Belts should go back to their companies, departments and positions with a completely different outlook on their company’s processes and the way the company does business. With this new point of view, a lot of Black Belts become frustrated because if it is so simple for them to see it, why can’t everybody else?

‘Our Measurement System Does Not Work’ – One of the most powerful tools a Black Belt will be instructed in is the Gage R&R. There have been several instances where Black Belts have come back after conducting a measurement system analysis, and said they could not believe their companies were actually making important business decisions, sending product to customers or making investments based on faulty measurement systems. Of course, part of the anger comes from the fact that they also realize that in the past they too were using the same data to make their own decisions.

‘I Mean Nothing Personal’ – During the course of a Six Sigma project, one or perhaps many hidden business skeletons will appear; and as fast as this happens, people will trying to bury them again. In a normal business environment this can be understood, but not tolerated. The Black Belts are constantly instructed not to try to find fault with any person, but rather find out why it may be hard for a person to work within the process. This can become very stressful, confusing and frustrating. Having found an undesired input, Black Belts can become disillusioned when a department tries to hide it again.

Management on All Levels Must Be Aware

Senior management needs to be aware of what Black Belts (and Green Belts) will be experiencing during and after their training. Management has to be especially sensitive during the initial deployment phases of the Six Sigma implementation. Further stresses can be expected if Black Belt candidates are part of the company’s first wave. During a Six Sigma implementation it is the senior management’s responsibility not only to check for project progress and success, but also assess the mental state of the Black Belt.

Further, the Champions/Sponsors need to inform potential process owners and team members that business skeletons will be found, issues will arise, but solutions will be developed. It is not a matter of finding blame, that nothing is personal, but that the Black Belts are simply looking for inputs that affect a desired or undesired output. Management needs to support the newly trained Black Belt/change agent, in a way that makes sure they have an outlet to voice their frustrations, concerns and other issues. That is especially true when Black Belts face issues which some might see as not project-related. And, once again, deployment Black Belts face those challenges to an even greater degree.

If a company wants a successful Six Sigma implementation, focus cannot only be on project completion, financial benefits or defect reduction. Time will have to be made for individual discussions with individual Black Belts or Green Belts to assess the psychological effects the deployment has on them.

About the Author: Sean C. Rast is an associate with Valeocon Management Consulting, who is based in Frankfurt, Germany. He has worked directly and indirectly with companies such as Textron, Compaq/HP, Magna, VW, BMW, Chrysler-Mercedes, and other automobile manufacturers. Mr. Rast is a certified Master Black Belt with both Design for Six Sigma and DMAIC expertise. He has extensive international experience and can communicate in English, German, Swiss-German and Swedish. He can be reached at [email protected].

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