Six Sigma, the business-management methodology that improves performance by minimizing variation in tasks, can be an incredibly useful tool for today’s business managers. When used correctly, Six Sigma can reduce the potential for worker error by providing workers with a consistent system of procedures.
So why is it that, in practice, nearly 60% of companies that have attempted to use Six Sigma have been unsuccessful? In 2005, for example, Home Depot’s rigid adherence to Six Sigma led to a drop in stock prices and a decrease in employee morale. Similarly, 3M also saw a drop in prices, along with the belief that Six Sigma played a part in reducing employee creativity.
While these cases may cause managers to shy away from using Six Sigma, it is important to remember that when implementing and using Six Sigma correctly, consequences like these can be avoided.
Six Sigma can be implemented in one of the four ways, depending on the current state of the company. Each of the four implementation models has pros and cons that suit different groups of workers, different departments or organization goals. Since there is no specific model that can be applied in all cases, it is crucial to use the model that best fits the company’s current situation.
Regardless of the deployment strategy that suits your organization, executive-level support needs to be quickly secured if lasting change is expected. While Six Sigma initiatives may not always require a management-level team, they do require executive-level support.
It is crucial that these leaders be visible, informed and enthusiastic about the benefits of the Six Sigma methodology. Leaders should also be assured that clear goals are set and that consistent communication on progress is maintained.
Appealing to executives may require a clear articulation of the potential for savings and positive return on investment (ROI). Before approaching executives, take the time to research and document success stories of other departments and organizations and calculate a reasonable expectation for savings over several years. These tend to be “hard” numbers, but you may also find it useful to present “soft” benefits such as an improvement in worker productivity.
Successfully implementing Six Sigma is going to take time, particularly since it requires an additional set of responsibility from employees who may already have full workloads. It is important to ensure that deadlines are set with employee workloads in mind. If managers expect rapid change in addition to normal employee duties, they will likely find interest and enthusiasm in Six Sigma diminish quickly and considerably.
As an alternative, consider redirecting the responsibilities of a small group of workers solely to Six Sigma deployment and implementation. The other duties that these team members would typically perform can be set aside or delegated until Six Sigma is in place and functioning correctly.
While managers may worry that reassigning responsibility might lower productivity in some departments, any short-term issues will be remedied with long-term gains. By resisting the urge to make Six Sigma a side project, you can help ensure that it is done correctly and completely, giving it the strength necessary to enact lasting change.