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, 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.
Tim Creasey is Prosci’s Chief Innovation Officer and a globally recognized leader in change management. His work forms the foundation of the largest body of knowledge in the world on managing the people side of change to deliver organizational results.