Six sigma and more:
Changing the culture means
understanding change itself
by David R. Schwinn
As I was considering
what to write this month I reviewed a reader response to an early
article, "Six Sigma and Beyond: Getting Started." The
reader suggested that the approach would never get the kind of whole
systems change desired from Six Sigma.
The reader's comments made me realize that I had not made my underlying
assumptions clear. I had assumed that most of the readers of this column are
not operations managers or above, and that they are not currently involved
in a Six Sigma effort. I concluded, therefore, that they would have to get
their boss's approval before an organization-wide Six Sigma effort could
Rosabeth Moss Kanter's research suggests that popular organizational
change myths are incorrect. (Rosabeth Moss Kanter, The Change Masters,
New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, Inc., 1983). In studying
several successful organizational transformations, she found that the CEO
did not wake up in the middle of the night with a brilliant vision. In fact,
new strategic direction occurred only after small, successful, perhaps
unplanned, experiments had occurred prior to the public commitment and the
"official" date of the new initiative. Furthermore, that
pre-announcement work was mostly forgotten in the public description of the
process after success was achieved.
This only makes sense. After all, what CEO would want to commit the
organization to an entirely new direction without some internal experience?
That was certainly true of Ford Motor Company's commitment to the
philosophy of W. Edwards Deming. As the organization was considering his
approach, we at Ford were surprised to find the depth and success of Ford's
use of statistical process control during World War II ø a story long
forgotten. Given these assumptions, let's look at a broader Six Sigma
change model within which the "getting started" steps can fit.
(PQ Systems, 1994) begins with Kanter's research and proposes a generic
system change model that works well for any organization. It suggests
five elements that operate in a complex, semi-linear process.
Departures from tradition: Planned or unplanned deviations from the
organization's norms occur, often at the grass roots level. These
deviations provide some evidence that the new way of doing things can
work. It may be years, even decades, before these deviations from the
normal way of doing things are recognized or noticed. The first six of
the seven steps I recommended in the "Getting Started" article
last fall provide more detailed suggestions here.
Crisis or galvanizing event: Something happens to give a sense of
urgency to the need for change. Usually such events occur without
advance notice and are caused by an outside influence. But they can be
planned or intentionally introduced. This could be the celebration I
suggested as part of getting started.
Strategic decisions: Leaders explore options for how they might meet
the new crisis. Prior departures from tradition, because they provide at
least some evidence of effectiveness, may become attractive
alternatives. Leaders make "official" choices, often drawing
up formal plans, committing resources, and defining goals and
Individual prime movers: At this stage, champions emerge. They sponsor
the change, helping to ensure commitment to it throughout. They talk
about the change in meetings, publish it in newsletters, give status
reports to management, and otherwise promote the change. They are
identified, encouraged, supported, and reinforced by the formal
structure of the organization. Quantitative and non-quantitative results
are examined and measured here.
Action vehicles: These are the organization's policies, standards,
and procedures that must eventually support the new way of doing things
if the new way is to become the new norm. Kanter suggests that when this
element is operating, policy revisions come naturally in an effective
change process. Old policies simply begin to seem contrary to the now
highly valued new way. The boilerplate of the organization changes here
because it no longer fits the desired and observed new behavior.
Changing action vehicles, then, can be viewed as the "act" in
the long-term Plan-Do-Study-Act cycle.
I think you will find this process a useful framework within which to
create your own, unique Six Sigma strategy.
As always, stay in touch. I'm at firstname.lastname@example.org.