Overcome the Barriers to Lean
Six Sigma Results
By Jay Arthur
you’re like ninety-nine percent of all businesses today, you’re
losing twenty-five to forty percent of your profit margins to
mistakes, rework, errors, omissions, defects, and delay. Spending
that kind of money to deal with, remedy, resolve, and mitigate
problems does more than just drain your bottom line; it also adds
undo stress to your employees, customers, and stakeholders.
you’re among the one percent of companies that has perfect employees
who never make mistakes and perfect processes that are error-proof,
chances are there’s still some sort of daily crisis management you
wish didn’t exist. Perhaps you have too many customer complaints,
too much firefighting, or too much employee heroism on a daily
matter what your company’s particular challenge is, consider these
questions: “If you had twenty-five percent more staff, what new and
interesting customer serving projects would you undertake? What new
products or services would you create? What possibilities would you
embrace?” That’s the power of Lean Six Sigma—having more profit from
streamlining your existing processes, which will then free up
resources to do the things you simply don’t have time to do.
Sigma is a proven methodology for reducing cycle time, defects, and
delay, and for boosting profits. It’s a results-oriented,
project-focused approach to quality, productivity, and
profitability. Lean Six Sigma has simple goals, such as:
to sixty percent reduction in Turnaround Time
to forty percent reduction in floor space requirements
to thirty percent improvement in equipment capacity
to fifty percent improvement in productivity
to sixty percent reduction in inventory
reductions and improvements translate into cost savings, profit
growth, and competitive advantage. Unfortunately, many companies
have barriers that keep them from executing a Lean Six Sigma
approach. Following are some of the common barriers to executing
Lean Six Sigma and some suggestions on how to overcome them.
Barrier #1: People don’t like being measured: One of the secrets
to getting better, making improvements, and increasing customer
satisfaction is to realize that your employees don’t like being
measured. Typically when companies measure their employees’ work or
productivity, they use the information to reprimand employees or
make them wrong. While measuring key factors in your company can
indeed be useful, you need to use the metrics you uncover to
identify how the processes or systems you have in place fail, not
how your people fail.
example, a call center may measure how long their customer service
reps are on the phone with customers. The stated goal is to complete
all calls in two minutes or less. As employees strive to stay within
the parameters of that measurement, they don’t give customers all
the information they need, resulting in the customer calling back
multiple times. In this case, the number of customer call backs may
be a more important metric than how long employees spend taking care
of a customer. After all, what good are short phone calls if you
have too many repeat phone calls?
Therefore, look at what you’re measuring and decide if it’s
providing useful information. Is what you’re measuring addressing
your customers’ real concerns? After this analysis, you might need
to totally change what you’re currently measuring. Or you might find
that you are measuring correctly, but you shouldn’t use the
information to blame your people—blame your process instead, and
then change the process.
Barrier #2: Having a “macho man” complex: Sometimes managers
think they know all the right answers. These “macho men” (and women)
of the organization think they’re golden. They don’t want to be
driven in a direction to improve because they think they’re doing a
great job already. They believe they’re great managers and don’t
need to change. To them, changing something is an admission that
something they did or implemented didn’t work. These are the people
who truly hold a company back.
this mentality from your managers and employees, you need to let
them know that all techniques fail at some point for a
variety of reasons—a changing economy, a new industry development, a
more diverse workplace, etc. Explain that all companies need new
processes, approaches, and techniques to find the hidden goldmine in
the company. Help them realize that the goldmine is already there in
the business—they just can’t see it the way they’ve always been
looking at it.
Barrier #3: Getting achievers and problem solvers to work together:
You can group all of your employees into one of two categories:
Achievers or Problem Solvers. Here’s the difference: If you ask
people what’s important to them about their job, they will say one
of two things: 1) It’s about what I can do, achieve, or accomplish
(the Achievers), or 2) It’s about avoiding difficulty, solving
problems, and avoiding mistakes (the Problem Solvers).
Achievers are not cut out for finding and fixing problems. Their
focus is to sell more products or services and to grow the business.
Problem Solvers, on the other hand, are great at fixing problems,
but they don’t have a visionary mindset. Without a problem to solve,
they lack direction. As a result, in many companies there’s conflict
between the two mindsets. Therefore, you need to encourage the
Achievers to go to the Problem Solvers to help reach goals.
Likewise, you need to encourage the Problem Solvers to look to the
Achievers for direction (although the Problem Solvers will be the
ones who ultimately solve the problem).
identify the Achievers and Problem Solvers in your company, ask
people two simple questions: 1) What’s important to you about your
work? And 2) Why is that important? Let’s suppose you ask everyone
the first question and they all answer that serving the customer is
important. When you ask them why that’s important, Achievers will
give answers like, “We get more business,” “We get better raises,”
and “We gain a greater market share.” To them, it’s all about
achieving and what they get. Problem Solvers will give answers like,
“We avoid having irate customers on the phone,” “We don’t have as
many warranty claims,” and “We don’t have to do rework.” To them,
it’s all about avoiding pain. Once you know which category everyone
fits into, you can bridge the gap between the two mindsets so
everyone works together efficiently.
Six Sigma for Your Future: Finally, with all the barriers
removed, be sure to give your employees permission to make things
better. While the leadership team should ultimately pick the things
that need to be improved, let your employees know that they have
permission to change how those aspects of the business work. Give
each employee ample face time to help ensure that they come up with
good solutions everyone can live with. Nine times out of ten, their
suggestions will amaze you.
Unfortunately, many of today’s companies are addicted to
firefighting and crisis management. As such, they tend to worship
the “hero” who is always saving the day. But when you overcome these
common barriers and effectively execute Lean Six Sigma in your
company, you don’t have fires anymore. Your business just runs the
way it should. It’s like a village where everyone contributes to the
village’s overall well being.
make these changes happen in your business, you’ll experience a
reduction in defects, increased quality, financial savings, and a
predictable and manageable workload. At that point, you’ll be able
to reclaim all those lost profits and grow your company to new
heights of success.
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