Six Sigma and Lean are all the rage with some of our clients. If you haven’t heard of them, Six Sigma is a set of business practices (originated at Motorola) designed to improve processes by eliminating defects, and Lean is a business system (pioneered at Toyota) that aims to reduce waste and improve customer value. Both can bring tremendous improvements to organizations.
(Those of us of a certain age remember similar process improvement methodologies like Reengineering and TQM.)
One client in particular is a devout follower of both Six Sigma and Lean. And for good reason. The processes help clarify issues, diagnose root causes, and pinpoint business solutions. This client, however, has not always been great at implementing those great business solutions.
When they adopted these new business improvement methods, they jumped in with both feet. They sent people to training on new tools and techniques, started measuring their use, and encouraged people to get certified in improvement methodologies. All in, over
30% of their staff is certified in a business improvement method.
With a stable of Black Belts and a sizable budget for Lean consultants, the organization is well positioned to develop the best business solutions in their industry for their customers. But it has not always been smooth sailing as they got used to their shiny new toolkits.
Their internal and external process experts worked on projects for months and even years, but the organization got stuck when leaders argued about business needs and budget priorities, middle managers questioned the data and the process used to develop the solutions, and front line employees just paid no attention to the new ideas.
They came face to face with the realization that the biggest challenges to making change happen within organizations are people issues. They realized that they needed to spend a little time thinking about how people internalize the new behaviors required rather than dedicating all of their focus to processes and systems.
General Electric realized, years ago, that Six Sigma falls short unless people within the organization make the personal changes necessary to behave differently. Some within GE use the equation E = Q x A. The Effectiveness of the solution is equal to the Quality of the solution multiplied by the Acceptance in the organization of that solution. The highest quality business solutions are not effective unless they are accepted by people who need to act on them.
The focus on the “people stuff” in and of itself is a discipline called Change Management (not to be confused with technical change management / version control). Change management is the next frontier of business improvement for organizations of all sizes. The newly formed Association of Change Management Professionals (ACMP) is growing quickly and globally.
Just as Six Sigma and Lean started with big companies and has since “trickled down” to smaller organizations, effectively managing change is starting to trickle. You don’t have to be big or rich to be fast… you just have to be fast to be fast.
How did our client make the most of the huge investment they had made in Six Sigma and Lean? They focused on Change Management. They acquainted leaders with their role in driving change; included Change Management as part of basic skills training for managers; and certified a group of internal experts on how to make change stick.
Don’t forget about Six Sigma and Lean. It is all great stuff. But remember to include a focus on people. Organizations with a Change Management competency help their people move from thinking and acting in existing ways to thinking and acting in new ways that are required for the organization’s success. A great solution is no good if people don’t act accordingly.