What is the real objective of Lean Six Sigma? When I ask this question, I usually get responses such as increased quality, improved speed, reduced cost, reduced errors and many other tactical improvement measures. Those are all benefits to continuous improvement (CI). The real goal of CI is to build a culture or improve a culture. As Dr. Womack wrote in Lean Thinking, the fifth principle of lean is culture.
So what does it mean to build a culture or to enhance the culture? How does a world-class culture behave? A world-class culture has an engrained tendency to seek out, identify and drive improvements at all levels of the organization. It moves from a culture where lean and Six Sigma are something to be done (like a project) to a place where Lean Six Sigma is simply the way things are done.
As you are engaging your CI plan, ask yourself what your culture is like. Are you doing CI or is CI simply the way things are done? This shouldn’t be hard to figure out, so don't spend a lot of time dwelling on it. Either you are or you aren't. Either answer is OK. Just recognize where you are and where you are trying to go.
Part of the equation in building a world-class culture is to engage people at all levels of the organization. Leaders must tie everyone into the plan for the CI process. They must get people involved, ask them for help and support them through the change. In short, leaders must lead them through the process. Communication is the first step to doing this.
Once you have developed your CI plan for the division, plant or department, tell people about it. Share it with those around you and those who work in the processes that will be affected. Tell them what you (with their help) are going to do. In so doing, you are absolutely obligated to two things:
- Tell them why you have this plan.
- Tell them what is in it for them.
I can’t stress these two items enough. If you are going to build a culture and truly reach where you are trying to go, you must get everyone involved and singing from the same sheet of music. You must get them onboard with the plan if they are going to support it.
Too many management teams still employ demand and direct tactics. They use pressure to get things done. While this can be effective, it usually does little to engage the culture or endear the personnel to the organization. Engage and empower your team members if you want to accelerate the velocity of the CI plan.
Another part of the communication process is to post the information on the wall, on the shop floor and wherever you have a facility board. Put the plan, targets, progress and results together in one place. As you can, have communications at that place and talk about it. People want to know how they are doing, what is coming up next and how they are involved. People want to hear about results and plans. They want leaders to point out when things are going well and when things need to be improved or changed. People want to know where they stand. It is the leaders’ job to have open and honest communications with them as much as possible.
After you communicate and post the plan, you are almost ready to start executing. Before you do, however, you also need to make sure that all of this work doesn’t become "window dressing." How are you going to communicate going forward? How are you going to share the wins, challenges and opportunities going forward? How are you going to hold yourself and your team accountable? What are you going to do to keep people fully engaged?
I am not going to tell you the answer, but I will offer some very strong advice:
- Communicate clearly.
- Communicate frequently.
- Communicate consistently.
- Communicate honestly.
As I once heard about cowboy leadership principles, "If you are leading a herd of cattle, take a look around every once in a while and make sure they are still following you."