This three-part article reviews three approaches to explaining Six Sigma that the author has seen backfire, along with an alternative. Part 1 sets the stage. Part 2 looks at Traps 1 and 2.

Below is the third of three approaches to explaining Six Sigma that I’ve seen backfire, along with an alternative. I don’t want to put words in your mouth. You know your company and your audience best. My goal is to help you avoid the verbal potholes I and others have already hit.

Trap #3: It Only Works If Everyone Does It

Another futile approach is to introduce Six Sigma as a kind of system that will breakdown unless everyone is committed to making it work. This way of presenting Six Sigma usually corresponds with a request from the HR or quality department to have the CEO compel employees to a strict Six Sigma training regimen. “We’ve got to get everyone on the same page,” they say. Whether this is true or not, it must sound like fantasy to a leader. Most of his or her day is spent dealing with the fact that things are not going as planned. It’s unlikely that leaders will get into a boat that’s certain to sink if one of the oars gets out of sync.

Alternative Approach: Experts in change and quality have long advocated the discipline of gaining “small, quick wins” when striving to transform a company culture. Use the same approach in your approach to transforming leaders. Think about small ways you can incorporate Six Sigma thinking or tools in a leader’s day-to-life (i.e., make it tangible, rather than a project or an initiative “out there”).

One potential stepping-stone to a broader appreciation of Six Sigma might be a leader’s participation in Voice of the Customer interviews. Later, she could be briefed on the progress of a need she identified in her interviews – watching as it flows through a Six Sigma product development process. If problems arise with this “pet need,” the leader will begin to ask “why?” That should be music to the quality team’s ears.

A Call for Failures

Explaining Six Sigma isn’t easy. But it’s not impossible. You can improve your impact with leaders in your company by avoiding the mistakes others (like me) have made. There are hundreds of individuals around the world who have struggled with this same issue. In the name of continuous improvement, join the discussion: click here to post your thoughts
I invite others who have floundered to share the “traps” they set for themselves on the iSixSigma discussion boards – and include an alternative approach if you can.

It’s great to read people’s suggestions of what to say right, but see what is definitely wrong teaches another kind of lesson. Let’s leverage the power of the Internet to aggregate our failures for the greatest benefit to the community of Six Sigma practitioners.

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