Who are the Key Players?
Much has been written about the high failure rate of Six Sigma and Lean Transformation initiatives. Several authors have suggested that as many as 70% either do not succeed or, alternatively, do not sustain the gains. Many reasons are advanced for this problem, but all point to common factors.
While the consulting fraternity is not blame-free – some are certainly inexperienced cowboys trying to play in the market – there is consensus that the philosophy will work in almost every application, if the balance between process tools and people engagement is understood and applied correctly. The executives cannot succeed alone and even the most enthusiastic engaged employees cannot succeed in an inappropriate climate. In our experience there are three key groups:
The Workforce. We refer to these teams as the “Value Chain” and they are the players who actually add value for the stakeholders. Given a supportive company culture and the requisite management recognition, we find that we can count on a successful implementation in over 95% of cases.
Middle Management. This sector is more often a problem area. These are frequently the personnel, who have been promoted because they were excellent performers while working in the Value Chain, and they are reluctant to pass on necessary skills to the workforce. Instead of focusing on coaching, they try to retain credit for their original areas of expertise. They do not understand that their role is to develop new front line teams that can perform even better than they did themselves. Rother suggested that typically 50% of their time should be spent coaching others.
CEO and other Executives. This group is far removed from the front line and often fails to grasp what a key role company culture can play in the success of the initiative. They believe success is dependent on somebody else. It is our experience that the clients, who extract maximum benefit from any improvement initiative are always those where this third group understands the process, asks the right questions, recognizes the right people and behaviours and walks the talk.
Dr Bob Emiliani has published an excellent paper on this topic, which should be standard reading for lean practitioners. He adopts a challenging “in-your-face” style, which will make some readers uncomfortable. That should be no excuse to ignore the thinking. I recommend it.