Envisioning the Transformation - Six Sigma

The first step in transforming an organization is the recognition that current approaches and levels of performance are not sustainable in the long term. The senior team needs to recognise that something can be done, and that something must be done. The need for change needs to be clear and communicated. The usual form that this takes in Six Sigma is a litany of current failings and comparisons to superior competitors in order to create dissatisfaction with the status quo. However, this may have a negative impact on the early phases of the emotional journey of change; we are all invested in our existing processes to some extent and beginning change by attacking them may harden the initial denial and resistance phases. Also, being told you are no good tends to sap the energy of an organization.

An alternative might be to take an approach like Appreciative Inquiry (Whitney et al, 2010) which starts with the belief that what we are looking for already exists somewhere in our organization and the task is to discover what works well and understand how that can be grown and expanded in order to operate effectively across the organization. This aids buy - in by celebrating the good in the existing system and looking to grow it. This may create the desired state of unhappiness with the current position.

It is helpful if management do not arrogantly assume they know the ills of the organization; this can create a parent child relationship rather than create a coalition of the willing (to borrow a phrase rather discredited by recent history).

A good place to start is by asking what is frustrating individuals in the organization, This again helps with buy - in and meaning for the individuals concerned and allows them to commit more easily to change as they can see what is in it for them. Gillett and Seddon (2009) suggest that a good way to start learning about current status is through some initial improvement projects. It also means that the senior management view of the problem is likely to be more complete and accurate, and thus the beginnings of the initiative more genuinely congruent with the issues.

Some are concerned that the bottom up element there might drive changes which are not in the strategic interests of the organization. This is to miss the point; firstly, if the strategy has been correctly deployed then it is very likely that the things which frustrate individuals at their organizational level are strongly related to their inability to do the job they wish for in the organization. Sarmiento, Beale and Knowles (2007) show that there is a positive and significant association between job satisfaction and performance.

In short, what makes people unhappy is likely to be what is inhibiting performance. Also, the job of the top team is to make sense of the feedback and to create a strategic approach which effectively marries top down and bottom up issues.

This approach recognises a wider definition of the guiding coalition than is the norm. This is usually seen as being the ‘top team’ or a range of senior execs and managers. Clearly, these are important people who will drive the process, but if we build a coalition which ranges from the top to the bottom of the organization then we make their job much easier by giving them allies in every part of the business. Of course, it is naive to think that everyone will be engaged by this process, but it is about generating a critical mass, and this is much more likely achieved through engagement than through preaching.

Once the senior team has digested the feedback from around the organization it is time to develop a vision and mission which will motivate the whole organization to move towards the desired future state. the development / deployment approach (Hoshin Kanri) is covered in some detail in chapter so will not be covered further there, except to make a few key points:

  • A Learning Approach to Strategy (Pedler et al, 1997): The deployment of strategy is a learning process, the Hoshin catchball process is a key way of getting feedback on the sense and practicality of the strategy. As per the SoPK always look to learn at every step of the deployment. This is a key part of developing a learning environment for the implementation by welcoming challenge and involvement.

  • Systems Thinking (Senge, 1999): The aim is to improve the whole organization, think about the system not just individual processes.

  • People (Eckes, 2001): Remember that acceptance of the Six Sigma initiative is vital to its success. Don’t forget the emotional journey that change takes people on. Help them to make sense of the proposed change, but expect some reaction to be emotional rather than purely logical. Help them to feel better about what they are losing and see the benefit in what they are gaining. Do not see people as a problem.

  • Measurement: Measurements of deployment success often focus on numbers (number of projects completed, number of belts trained, savings to date, etc.) Goh (2010) calls this the “bigoted ‘In Data We Trust’ mentality”. Remember to measure how people feel about the initiative too.

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