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John Nycz

Six Sigma

A Marketing Solution for Six Sigma Cultures

E-learning drives process improvement.

Published: Saturday, November 8, 2003 - 23:00

Jack Welch had a unique vision of an organization that made data-based decisions. At times his tactics for bringing this about were described as “violent,” “abrupt” and “painful,” but his methods worked. GE’s transformation is still a modern model of how to make quantum shifts in the way a huge company does business. However, most Six Sigma champions simply lack resources and/or a CEO like Welch to crack the whip. If your organization wants to change the direction of the company by creating a Six Sigma culture, the way in which you market the initiative can significantly influence how far down the road you’ll get.Brian Zempel is HSBC/Household’s national director of Household Consumer Lending. He recently presented the following assessment of cultural transformation. Companies that have undertaken Six Sigma or lean Six Sigma initiatives during the last five years basically fall into three groups:

  • Six Sigma success. Five percent have successfully driven Six Sigma or lean Six Sigma so deeply into their organizations that it has changed the corporate culture.
  • On the road to Six Sigma, moving slowly. More than 80 percent have achieved varying degrees of success, shown ROI on a handful of projects and have plans to broaden the scope of their Six Sigma programs. However, they often lack a viable plan for accomplishing a broader implementation or the resources to move training forward. This group will likely remain focused on projects for the life of the initiative.
  • Six Sigma in the ditch. Fifteen percent have failed to show results, been unable to train effectively or lost support so early that the programs were already, or are likely to be, abandoned.

What are the best-in-class organizations doing to change their companies’ cultures? Often, it comes down to reaching your internal customers using the same planning and execution you do to sell your product or service. If Six Sigma is marketed well, and if the whos, hows, whys and whats are all addressed in the plan, then arriving at a data-driven internal culture will happen.

Marketing Six Sigma
Jeff Reinke, McKesson’s vice president of Six Sigma, maintains an infectious smile and quick sense of humor that leaves you feeling like you’ve known him your whole life. He’s a true salesman and perhaps, therefore, an atypical Six Sigma professional. He’s never even taken a college math class. But Reinke was the top business development professional with one of the McKesson’s medical device acquisitions, and the leadership team deemed him the right man to sell McKesson’s Six Sigma initiative into the organization. “I basically made the decision that I was going to be a great Black Belt,” Reinke explains. “I demonstrated it by getting through the statistics and proving that Six Sigma worked by doing great projects.”

Reinke then used his Black Belt certification like a sales professional uses product knowledge to sell the rest of McKesson’s management teams on the initiative. His message was simple: “Six Sigma is going to change the way we do business and make us better at our core competencies in the process.” He succeeded in communicating that message. To date, Reinke’s team to date has trained more than 80 Black Belts and returned tens of millions of dollars of ROI while creating a process improvement mindset at McKesson. He is just beginning to explore how e-learning may pull more people into the fold faster. Regardless, his success proves that an organization can be persuaded to change using effective sales and marketing techniques.

Bret Skousen is Black & Decker Hardware & Home Improvement’s director of corporate training. He investigated e-learning because he needed to train deeper and faster. Black & Decker had more than $100 million in Six Sigma savings and record-setting cash-flow numbers in 2002. “Our Six Sigma program is obviously producing results,” says Skousen. “E-learning will help us tell more people what we’re doing well while showing them the basics of how to do it well. We don’t necessarily expect our people to walk out of an e-learning experience ready to run a $2 million Six Sigma project, but we’re completely convinced it will help them add more value to the teams they work on and get them thinking about process improvement as part of how they do their jobs.”

Black & Decker HHI’s answer is to customize existing Six Sigma e-learning content to meet its needs. The company is creating its own 3.5-hour course titled The Black & Decker Lean Toolbox. Lean leader Rob Sell developed the curriculum for the new lean program during the last several years. “We needed a way to market this stuff to suppliers too,” Skousen adds. “It certainly makes us better when they work more effectively, but I can’t get our SMEs to clear enough time to share what we’ve accomplished with our own people, let alone the other stakeholders.” The Black & Decker Lean Toolbox will be available commercially in generic and customizable versions in the first quarter of 2004.

Sell them on why, then teach them how
E-learning awareness courses are a great way to communicate why:

  • Improving processes makes the company more profitable.
  • These proven methodologies are actually bringing U.S. jobs back home while increasing job satisfaction.
  • Using measurements and accurate data delivers fewer defects and better customer satisfaction.
  • Six Sigma, or whatever your company calls its process improvement toolkit, will be part of how you do business.

According to e-learning industry watcher Brandon-Hall.com, two of the top seven trends in e-learning design are including story and narrative tie-ins, and using human agents in varied and creative e-learning scripts. Weaving stories, narratives and characters into e-learning provides an engaging way to explain “why” to the workforce. If those on the front lines who work inside processes gathering data and maintaining the controls don’t buy in, how can you expect to achieve optimal results?

There’s no faster or more effective way to reach workers than through a well-designed and customized e-learning awareness program. In an hour or two, students can be on their way to gaining a basic understanding of what DMAIC is and how it ties in with lean or other process improvement initiatives. At the same time, you can brief them on the gains achieved by the company. Take the time to communicate the whys and hows from the bottom up and you’ll reap sustained momentum for your initiative.

Define your target audiences
E-learning offers the ability to rearrange content for specific target audiences, making it a powerful marketing solution. Today’s leading-edge e-learning tools can be easily repackaged to incorporate your company ID, logos, typefaces and corporate colors. You could start, for example, with a 10-hour body of content presented in one-hour modules designed for team members. This can also be used as a prerequisite for Green Belt training. Then take the same learning objects, pare them down to three or four hours and rearrange them to create an executive overview or Champion course. The same body of content then becomes the awareness course that markets basics to the masses.

Push-pull marketing models
Because e-learning can be easily customized, Six Sigma initiatives can leverage the power of the push-pull marketing model. Content is “pushed” out to a majority of the workforce as an awareness offering. The goal is not only to expose more of the workforce to the rational, basic methodologies and tools but also to create interest in learning more about it. The right value proposition from the employee’s perspective can create “pull” for more involvement with something like an “e-Yellow Belt” offering. This, in turn, feeds more prequalified candidates into Green Belt ranks while top Green Belts move on to become Black Belts.

The same rationale applies to the project selection pipeline. “Pushing” basic Six Sigma information deeper into the workforce allows more employees to participate in identifying potential projects. If a single front-line employee presents a viable project concept as a result of participating in training, odds are good the project will save more than it cost to develop a dedicated Six Sigma e-learning portal for the entire company. It’s not difficult to justify investment in training solutions when you consider those benefits.

E-learning as an economical marketing tool
In order to correctly analyze e-learning’s economic benefits, it must be measurable. Measurement has always been part of the marketing discipline. In fact, most marketing scholars will agree that the birth of coupon-based promotions in the consumer products world was spawned by the ability to measure redemption rates. The debate continues to rage over whether or not coupons really drive more market share, but in the end they can be counted.

Because data-driven decision making is a basic premise of Six Sigma, it stands to reason that e-learning must also make economic sense. In broad strokes, a Fortune 500 company can typically achieve ROI implementation of enterprisewide e-learning solutions in far fewer than 12 months without any soft-dollar accounting.

Effective e-learning solutions incorporate sophisticated tools to capture data and measure learning outcomes. Pretests measure baseline knowledge that can be compared with results from post-tests. You can customize and randomize questions and even proctor tests to ensure the integrity of the results. Data can then be exported to the company’s learning management system for archiving.

You can derive additional benefits by designing e-learning solutions that satisfy training needs and then do double-duty as work aids. We’re all aware of the significant drop in people’s ability to retain what they’ve learned following a weeklong classroom-training event. Training materials deliver ongoing value when they’re made available as e-learning and incorporate map functions or searchable databases that allow users to easily review information by subject. With the push of a button, a user can look at typical layout for a project charter, review discrete capability or run through the practice exercise on gage R&R one more time.

Economics were a big part of what drove Dana Commercial Vehicles to implement a lean Six Sigma learning solution that incorporated e-learning. “Throughout 2004, we plan to train an additional five percent of our business unit’s 7,000-person workforce as lean Green Belts,” says Ed Ramsey, Master Black Belt. “E-learning gave us a way to reach more people with our message. The bottom line is that it saved students and instructors time, and we got started faster and for a lot less cost than expected. We needed our lean Black Belts focusing on projects, not teaching beginners what DMAIC stands for.”

To conduct a detailed analysis of the economic benefits of e-learning within your organization, check out the Training Costs and ROI Worksheet from GeoLearning. It’s available online at www.geolearning.com.

E-learning technologies help market initiatives.
Every year more young workers who grew up with high-tech tools and toys enter the workforce, and these workers often prefer the flexibility that comes with e-learning. Concurrently, steady increases in technological capabilities continue to indicate that e-learning isn’t going away. According to industry watcher Piper and Jaffray, the market for e-learning will crest at $46 billion in 2005. Many of us have children at home who can leverage the power of Lycos, Google, or HotBot to gather accurate data on the number of goat farms in Madagascar as quickly as we can make coffee. These technically savvy kids and young adults will continue to build demand for these tools as they enter the workforce.

Given that increased e-learning is a coming wave (granted, this is its second coming), doesn’t it make sense for an organization to consider these tools to help market the Six Sigma initiative? If getting the most out of Six Sigma and process improvement as well as driving the corporate culture in new directions are both strategic initiatives, you should know what your options are. Does your company want to do more than simply train a few experts to run around doing projects? If you’re part of the 80 percent of companies achieving successes with Six Sigma but you want more, then e-learning presents a neatly packaged solution. With one e-learning portal, an organization can enable itself to market and communicate, train, measure outcomes, share successes, deliver prerequisite content for classroom sessions, update materials instantly and reach more people for far less cost--at any time.

McKesson had Reinke and his 15-plus years of sales and marketing expertise to sell Six Sigma into its organization. Not every company has dedicated resources with sales and marketing skill sets at the helm of its Six Sigma deployment. But resourceful Six Sigma professionals will eventually identify the most effective tools to get the job done. For many of them, quality e-learning isn’t just a training solution, it’s also an incredibly versatile and far-reaching marketing medium that can drive results deep into the heart of your company culture.


About The Author

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John Nycz

John Nycz is the vice president of e-Learning Solutions for The Quality Group, a software development company with lean, Six Sigma, SPC, service quality and problem solving content. He has worked with software development, marketing and communications, consumer product, medical device, and physician specialty group customers. His body of work includes television and radio production, corporate communications, branding, content development, e-CRM and e-commerce, publishing, promotional programs, public relations, Web development and sales.