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Tej Mariyappa

Six Sigma

Creating a Six Sigma Workplace

Using CREATE to drive Six Sigma success

Published: Tuesday, December 2, 2008 - 13:36

Organizations embarking on the journey to process excellence have much to gain if appropriate actions are taken in the early stages of deployment. A key principle of Six Sigma is that defects identified and fixed upstream will result in significant leverage and benefits downstream. Similarly, the steps and actions an organization takes early in the Six Sigma deployment life cycle will decide the probability of success downstream. Let’s look at six key steps to driving a successful Six Sigma deployment using the C-R-E-A-T-E principle:

Make no mistake, “C” can be nothing less than real commitment (is there such a thing as unreal commitment?) from the most senior leaders of the organization. Six Sigma transformation demands a substantial commitment in terms of time, resources, and upper-management focus over a sustained period. This commitment has to be seen and felt across all levels of management and staff throughout the organization. Front-line and operations staff will quickly judge whether this is just another management knee-jerk reaction to crisis management or something to be taken seriously. Jack Welch, General Electric’s former chairman is often cited as the model for how top-level commitment permeated every level of GE’s massive enterprise.

A well-thought-out structure for rewards and incentives needs to be in place early to establish the appropriate buy-in and involvement of your key change agents. This means tying rewards, incentives, and recognition to meeting operational performance goals. Those tasked with achieving these targets should have performance-based incentives that, if achieved, offer significant advantages in terms of recognition, compensation, resources, and greater responsibility.

Like any new initiative, expect to face detractors, naysayers, and resistance to change. Developing a concerted communication strategy and reinforcing key messages on the practical benefits of Six Sigma is integral to creating a performance-driven culture. Usually, the best option (as in GE’s case) is for the CEO to be the chief evangelist in communicating the merits of Six Sigma. But it shouldn’t stop there—enroll the senior management team to support this message by speaking with a single, consistent voice. Of course, this is easier said than done, given the skepticism that naturally comes with major changes. Keep in mind that the Six Sigma journey takes time and rely on leaders who need little or no convincing that this is the right strategy.

Set high targets, especially against known industry best practices and strive to be the best in the areas that are most important to your business and customers. Declaring to become the best in the industry will generate a strong sense of urgency and the energy to make it reality. Of course, knowing what targets you want to achieve means knowing how to measure and communicate performance, so make sure a strong and capable measurement system is in place if one doesn’t already exist (and usually it won’t, at least for many of the customer and operational measures that drive performance).

Develop strong training capabilities that will impart the knowledge and problem-solving skills required to run effective Six Sigma projects. Ideally, training occurs at all levels, from Champion training for senior managers, to Black Belt and Green Belt training for project managers, and Yellow Belt training directed toward front-line and support staff. If resources are limited, focus on getting the senior leaders to undergo Champion training first, followed by a select number of Black and Green Belts who can run projects well. Keep in mind that you want the best training you can afford, even if it means fewer people get trained initially. Go with a training outfit that has solid certification credentials. In a larger context, strive to create a “learning organization,” where exists a healthy culture of encouraging exploration, sharing knowledge, challenging assumptions, and contributing to the overall intellectual capabilities of the organization.

Empower your employees to do what it takes to root out inefficiency and waste aggressively and relentlessly and to improve the customer experience. Toyota, through its lean production system, has been a pioneer in empowering employees at all levels to own the quality of their output and continuously look for more improvements. As this newfound empowerment takes hold, there will be an abundant source of project-improvement opportunities feeding the cycle of continuous improvement. This might mean changing the workforce hierarchy, delegating more decisions, or increasing individual ownership and accountability. However this is achieved, employees who feel they’re an integral and important part of the customer process will usually grow to fill the bigger shoes, and be happier and more productive in the process.


About The Author

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Tej Mariyappa

Tej is a Master Black Belt and president of T-Logic Training & Consulting Pvt. Ltd., a process improvement training and consulting organization focused on transaction and service-oriented industries. Tej has more than 15 years of experience working with financial services companies in the areas of technology, process improvement, and Six Sigma, and holds an MBA in finance from Cornell University.