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If you are right in the middle of a Six Sigma project and experiencing employee resistance or a lack of management support, you are not alone. One common thread with nearly all change initiatives is resistance to change. The Six Sigma tools and processes, including DMAIC and DFSS, can provide direction for the change, but alone they cannot ensure that you will succeed. Why? Too often, Six Sigma professionals lack change management competency -- that ability to manage the people side of change. Val Larson and Mike Carnell (president of Six Sigma Applications) summarize the issue well in their article, Developing Black Belt Change Agents:

"Why then, if the change agent role is such an important part of the Black Belt identity, do we spend 4 to 6 months training the Black Belt candidates with maybe just a few hours of training on the process of change? ..."

Perhaps it is a two-fold issue. First: change has undeniably been labeled as difficult. Second: dealing with change is ambiguous, even on a good day. The fact is, however, that the root cause to the difficulty is the same root cause to the ambiguity. The real issue is: People! They aren't like a nicely defined data set where we can hit a few keystrokes, stack them, run an analysis and, if it doesn't work out, delete that worksheet as if it never happened... People are much more complex than a data set."

Exactly. But, is this a common view? Is managing the people side of change and securing management support an issue that others face as well?

"Without the support of senior leaders, change initiatives are destined to fail." Jack Finney, President and CEO, Six Sigma Academy

"Overwhelmingly, the greatest single contributor to project success is effective change management." Benchmarking results from 327 companies implementing major change initiatives, Best Practices in Business Process Improvement Report, Prosci

What does that mean for Six Sigma professionals? It means Black Belt certification is not the end of the road in terms of certification and learning; it is simply your ticket to begin the journey. The next most significant hurdle will be mastery of change management and the people side of change.

How to start

1. Build awareness and desire for change management competency within your team of Six Sigma professionals. Given the months of time you have invested in your Six Sigma certification, spending more time in training may not be the highest priority. You must, therefore, begin by listing the reasons that change management competency is necessary for your success. Here are a few:

Projects will have a greater probability of staying on time and on budget.

Managers will more readily provide resources and demonstrate sponsorship for your changes.

Overall resistance from employees will decrease.

Productivity of the organization will be less impacted by the change.

You will build a solid reputation as a business leader and change agent.

2. Develop your knowledge of change leadership and change management. Once you have established awareness and desire to create change management skills, your next step is to begin the learning process. Your options include reading free tutorials, buying books priced from $20 to $400, or attending certification training in change management.

3. Become proficient at the practical application of tools and processes for managing change. No amount of knowledge will substitute for practice, especially when managing the people side of change. Just when you think your abilities have reached the "master" change agent level, you will run across yet another situation where executive support, culture, history or any number of variables throws you a curve. Developing your ability to manage change will take time. You will also need to stay current with best practices and the latest tips.

4. Reinforce change management competency with your team. To ensure that you sustain this change, reward and reinforce change leadership behavior and skills within your team. Celebrating successes is a key part of cementing new skills and behaviors. Moreover, it is critical to reward success and recognize the valuable contributions of team members.

Ultimately, your goal is to deploy your Six Sigma projects effectively. Change management will be the most important companion-discipline to make this goal a reality. Certainly, the people side of change will challenge even the best Black Belt on your team, and the ambiguity of managing change may test their patience. Developing change management skills will reduce the personal stress associated with leading projects and make your investment in Six Sigma produce greater returns.

From India, Baruipur
Pramit lists some very useful help here.
Permit me to make the following observation - there is much about 'what' to be done, for example reinforcing the change management competency in your team. This may be very useful advice, but we must also know what these change management competencies look like if we are to know 'how' to improve these competencies.
I have been working with Six Sigma and related change for some 3 years now, and my own experiences tell me that change management means many things to many people, but what has provided lots of resistance is a lack of well-organised, meaningful and focused change that has been communicated to the workforce in such a way that they can figuer out for themselves what is going on and what decisions to take for success. And this is independent of the Six Sigma toolbox in some respects.
I think there is a wide set of views in this regard - there is perhpas not universal agreement as to what these competencies are.

From United Kingdom,
I agree with Pramit's and Martin's view. The major reason for the failure of the change efforts, is largely due to centralised autocratic approach on the part of top managers. Unless there is high degree of employee involvment in every aspects of the planning, implementation and evaluation aspects of change programme, those unilaterla efforts will not work.
Most managers attempt to introduce Six Sigma and other improvement efforts without much employee involvement.
Arul John Peter

From Singapore, Singapore
hi All ...

I guess I am adding to this topic pretty late in time (writing in march for a topic posted in Sept) but nevertheless ... i wanted to draw attention to a LOT (line of thought) . . .

Is there any specific reason for limiting the discussion of Change Management specifically to Six Sigma . . .

Are we talking about the 6 Sigma specific change i.e. technical changes in work processes etc. OR Are we talking about Change Management w.r.t. People !!

In case we want insights on the latter . . . I guess it would make little difference (managers would call it - Customization ;-) whether we are talking about 6 Sigma or SAP or ERP or transformation to Process Eentric Enterprise or Oracle implementation or just about ANY BIG Change in the organisational setup.

The fundamental concept here is to look at Change Management as a NECESSARY and CRITICAL support function to any kind of Change Initiative. As alerady discussed, it would require a specialised Change Management Team of trained Change Agents with a dedicated Change Manager. This team will have to put in place an exhaustive and flexible Change Strategy encompasing all factors of Change.

The Business Dynamics now demand a greater and far more scientific approach to Change Management.

After all ... Millions of dollars worth of projects are at stake ! !


I am a new entrant in the world of professional HR ! Your comments will be a learning opportunity for me. Do comment if you find my chat above worthwhile. I guess we can take this discussion further and share our 'LOT' on the same.

Thanks and Regards,

Hemantkumar Jain

From Switzerland, Geneva
You are right. The key lies in communicating the change. More often we give importance what is to be changed and how it is to be attempted by elobarating the features of change rather than the benefits we can expect out of change. This results into orgnization playing into the hands of people, who wants to resist the change for the sake of establishing their identity.

From India, Mumbai
There is no reason to limit the discussion to change and Six Sigma, but given the original posting had this title, it seems appropriate to have this focus - the rest of the change management forum is available if anyone chooses to expand the discussion.

My own view as a Six Sigma practitioner with some years of experience is that Six Sigma is NEVER just about technological change. It is ALWAYS about the change impacting on people. Where Six Sigma projects have failed most often is where this distinction has not been clear. Indeed, George Eckes, one of the main Six Sigma gurus who did much with GE in the 1990s even developed his famous "E=Q X A" equation, where E is effectiveness of the project, Q is the level of quality achieved, and A is the acceptance by the people of the project and the changes it brings. At the start of the project Q may be say 2 out of 10, and A may be 2 out of 10, giving E a value of just 4 from a possible max of 100. After the project which has focused on technological change, the Q may be as high as 8 or 9, but the A is still only around 3 or 4, giving at most an E value of 36 out of a possible 100.

Further, one might argue that at least at the time of writing (July 2005AD) there is no man-made process yet known to us that is of general application and that is also capable of self improvement and adaptability to a constantly changing environment. There are plenty of examples of natural processes like this though. You find them wherever you find life! And we all know about living organisms that fail to adapt enough to changing environments - they die out, become extinct...


From United Kingdom,

A lot is said about how difficult it it to make change happen. In my limited 17 years of experience leading, managing and advising on business transformational change in organizations, I find the following framework to be quite handy.

Of course, driving each component of the framework well crucially dictates the outcome. If one or more of the components of the model are missing or executed badly, you can also see what would be the likely outcome.

So depending on where you find your organization's Six Sigma (or for that matter any business, process, technology or project) initiative is today, you can rewind to the relevant component(s) and work on putting things back on track.

While the framework looks short, without a doubt it is deceptively simple. The success depends not just on knowing or leveraging the model to drive change but on the quality and richness of the thoughts of organizational stakeholders in preparing a solid execution plan to make this happen. That is significantly a function of organizational functional, domain, technical, process and business knowledge so that a successful outcome can be achieved.

BTW - This framework is pinned right in front of my eyes in the softboard at my desk!! You may want to do it as well!!

Hope this is useful!!

A Framework For Managing Discontinuities

In its simplest form, discontinuity in the work place is change. A popular change framework is:

Vision -> Skills -> Incentives -> Resources -> Action Plan = Change,
  • A vision is the starting point for goals it provides the launch pad for action and the parameters for problem-solving.
  • Once a vision is established, it is necessary to build the skills needed to realize the vision.
  • Incentives help to motivate the workforce to acquire and maintain new skills. Building "buy-in" engages them -- it means they are now stake-holders.
  • Adequate resources allows the vision to be achieved.
  • Action planning is a continuous thread across all phases -- it is change process. Although presented as the final component of the change framework, it should be viewed as the foundation of the systems change process.

If any of the steps are missing, something will go wrong:
  • Skills -> Incentives -> Resources -> Action Plan = Confusion (If Vision missing)
  • Vision -> Incentives -> Resources -> Action Plan = Anxiety (If Skill missing)
  • Vision -> Skills -> Resources -> Action Plan = Gradual Change (If Incentive missing)
  • Vision -> Skills -> Incentives -> Action Plan = Frustration (If Resources is missing)
  • Vision -> Skills -> Incentives -> Resources = Treadmill Effect (False starts) (If Action plan missing)

From my experience, I can say that organizations do a fairly good job on resources and skills, but find badly wanting on

- Vision (employees don't really connect with what the company is trying to do and find it is "recipe of the month" syndrome)

- Action Plan (PPTs are great, but coming down to execution, getting into too many things at the same time without deciding priorities, besides the baggage of a large amount of wasted resources)

- Incentives - Why should I do this? (The "I am doing work" and I am doing "Six Sigma" (or CMM or ISO also). The fundamental question of what is in it for me is just not addressed to the clarity and satisfaction of the workforce. (Please show them the "gold" (not just the goal!!) - This is squarely in the Top/Business Manager's role) (Finally every company blames the HR Team for "not doing enough" to "motivate" employees - What a pity!!)

Hope this enriches the discussion out here!!

Sethu V
eXample Consulting Group
(Enabling Excellence)

From India, Bangalore
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