Back in June of 2017 (and again in November), we explored the process improvement journey of Kern County – a California-based county that fell on hard times due to a downturn in two of its biggest revenue drivers: oil and gas.

When the price of oil fell a few years ago, Kern experienced staggering budget cuts and hiring freezes. Things got so bad, that in 2016, the county cut the public safety program. Things were poised to go from bad to worse when, in 2017, county supervisor Zack Scrivner proposed a tool for recovery.

Lean Six Sigma.

“It is always the county’s goal to be a model of excellence in managing our business and our people,” Scrivner wrote in an op-ed on Bakersfield.com, in April 2017. “Lean Six Sigma will assist the county to become this model of excellence by taking a critical look at its internal processes in order to sustain value-added programs and services.”

The Plan

Reviving the economic momentum of an entire county is a tall order, but Scrivner (with the help of a few consultants and facilitators) laid out a simple plan.

Kern County would train all of the county’s department heads on the Lean Six Sigma methodology.

“All county department heads and their executive staff will participate in training and be empowered to begin process improvements in their respective county departments,” Scrivner said, “consistent with countywide strategic goals and business plans.”

Those department heads would, in turn, train their employees on process improvement.  This, Scrivner hoped, would create a culture of empowerment across the county.

The Results

In late December 2017, Scrivner wrote a follow-up piece in a local paper – the Tehachapi News.

In less than a year after moving forward with the Lean Six Sigma training program, Kern County saw the following returns…

  • A 50% reduction in the structural deficit – The county no longer had to use reserve funds to keep its operations up and running.
  • A $24,000 savings from the county’s Behavioral Health & Recovery Services – All it took was some simple changes to its fleet policy.
  • A $120,000 savings from the Tax Collector – How? They made the tax bills easier to understand, which resulted in fewer errors during processing.
  • A $27,000 savings from Human Resources – They simply switched to an electronic benefit package, and didn’t have to waste so much paper and printer ink anymore.
  • No layoffs – Amazingly, no staff was cut to achieve the reduction in deficit.
  • Bonuses for service employees – Not only was no one laid off, Kern County was able to provide employees with two $500 retention bonuses, and an extra four days of paid time off in 2017.

The Takeaway

Lean Six Sigma is industry-agnostic. It’s not about manufacturing; it’s about process improvement. It’s versatile. It’s flexible. It can be used to build cars (like Toyota did throughout the 20th century), or it can be used to revitalize a struggling county (like Zack Scrivner did in 2017).

The principles are applicable nearly anywhere.

Kern County is proof enough.

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