One of the main roadblocks in achieving long-term success with Lean or Six Sigma methodology comes directly from the C-suites.
Without the support of executives, even the most passionate, dedicated and educated employees cannot implement the proven strategies of Six Sigma. All too often, implementation of the methodology starts strong. But without commitment and support from the top, people eventually fall back into old, wasteful patterns.
It’s such a common issue that it often tops the list of reasons why Six Sigma projects fail to meet expectations.
And now, there’s a name for executives who won’t commit to continuous process improvement: Concrete heads.
According to Larry Fast, the president of Pathways to Manufacturing Excellence who writes about continuous improvement for Industry Week, the term describes “so-called leaders who don’t get it, don’t want to get it and won’t listen to those who do get it, understand it and simply need their leadership’s support to go do it!”
He notes that changing such a culture requires education, training and communication. However, in some cases, it might require replacing senior leaders with people committed to Six Sigma methodology.
That’s because success with Six Sigma to a great extent rests with executives who have an open mind. Some simply don’t.
How To Get Executive Buy-In
All of the above said, those aware of the possibilities with Six Sigma will want to make the best attempt possible to get executive buy-in. That means, in particular, commitment beyond just the initial launch of the program.
The following are some ideas in this area.
Know What They Want
Strip away all the details of Six Sigma or any other project or initiative, and it comes down to the bottom line. Most often, that’s a financial bottom line. It’s important to connect Six Sigma initiatives to the “big picture” strategic goals of the company.
That doesn’t mean it’s not also important to achieve “lesser” goals along the way, such as improving teamwork, inter-department communication, eliminating inefficiencies and improving customer service. But these all should be tied to eventual outcomes that support overall business goals. The bottom line should be always in mind.
Explain The Process
Another challenge is making Six Sigma tools and methods understandable to executives. If just explained in a general outline, Six Sigma may sound too much like every other process improvement program to come down the road the past 20 years.
Try to be specific about what Six Sigma tools will work for your company. Use examples of similar tools used successfully at other organizations. Help them understand the use of data and analysis. Provide them the education they need.
While no one in the history of the planet has ever “solved” office politics, those looking to make the case for Six Sigma must have an awareness of how they work in their particular situation. Office politics are like snowflakes – no two organizations are exactly alike.
That means asking questions and understanding who controls what. That also means finding out who has influence on decision makers. Most importantly, it’s knowing who among the people in positions of power is resistant to change. Educating as many managers as possible and getting their sponsorship with Six Sigma – as well as achieving some positive results quickly – can help make your case.
But make the case with facts – no one, especially people high up on an organization’s chart – like being told what to do.
Keep these tips in mind, and getting around the “concrete heads” who block the pathway to improvement can be that much easier.