February  2003

Vol. 5, No. 2


Six Sigma and More: 
From the mouths of babes:
The ‘soft side’ of quality

by David R. Schwinn

Two of our grandchildren, Claire (age 5) and Bailey (age 2 ˝ ), do not say, “Bye, bye.” They say, “Bye, I love you.” Over the weekend, I noted what a change there would be in the world if we would all depart and even greet each other in that spirit. Our daughter, Kristi, responded, “What if we said, ‘I love you, too?,’” assuming the other person loved us, but just forgot to say so. So we all (at least Bailey and I) agreed to try to add to our hi’s and bye’s, “I love you, too.” What a delightful way to change the world!

During that same weekend, our other daughter, Lisa, shared with us a recent consulting assignment she had. Her client was a major manufacturer whose profit was going down the drain. A perfect opportunity for Six Sigma, I thought to myself. Lisa then described the approach they used, encouraging the management team to begin to listen more deeply and to ask others to do the same. After engaging the leadership in a conversation about the benefits, difficulties, and skills associated with deep listening, they led a practice with the entire management team, starting them down the path to shared understanding of the issues and opportunities, and building a commitment to finding a new way to succeed together.

As I reflected on these two experiences, I found a common thread that reminded me of my experience with Six Sigma projects. In most of the projects I have led, the problem has not been learning the quantitative techniques. It has not been gathering the data. It has not been learning or applying the problem-solving method. It has not been using the analytic tools. It has been finding a new viewpoint and the courage to decide and make the change that ultimately improves the system being studied. And it takes remembering who we really are, a point of view we don’t hear much in the workplace.

Saying, “I love you, too” takes more than a little spunk. And choosing to approach a major profitability problem by honoring the existing employees through deep listening rather than wholesale downsizing sounds both courageous and innovative to me.

So, as you engage in Six Sigma, don’t forget about the “soft” side. It is the “soft” side that I think is the most difficult. Think and feel and listen from your deepest essence about who you are and who you want to be. It is very easy these days to feel isolated, powerless, scared, incompetent, impotent, and threatened. Those are not qualities that lead to the kind of innovative, courageous action required of Six Sigma.

In Jackson, Michigan, we engaged about 5,000 people in this kind of assessment. The citizens of Jackson determined that they:

  • Were powerless
  • Lacked strong leaders
  • Were on their own as individuals and small groups
  • Required more resources than they had to make a difference
  • Were stuck in the wrong job
  • Felt growth was both essential and destructive

Based on that understanding, they decided to choose to be different. They decided to try to act as if they:

  • Were the leaders they desired
  • Were powerful based on the choices they would make
  • Were responsible for themselves, their neighbors, and their community
  • Could make a difference with the resources at hand
  • Needed to be sensitive to the change going on around them and respond to it proactively
  • Could choose development over growth

This was not a cultural transformation delivered to the people. It was the result of deep conversation. And five years later, Jackson has a revitalized downtown, more inter-organizational cooperation, a growing number of new neighborhood centers, better community/policy relationships, reduced crime, and a lot more work to do.

A friend of mine, Andrew Bennett, observes that, in organizations, we generally first decide what we want, we then act to get it, and finally, become whoever it took to get what we wanted to begin with. (Sounds a little like the story of Enron to me). He suggests we might be better off first deciding whom we want to be at the deepest level, then act to become that, and finally, find that we already have what it is we want.

All this reminds me of a piece by Marianne Williamson, spoken by Nelson Mandela at his 1994 Inaugural.
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God…your playing small doesn’t serve the world.
There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so other people won’t feel insecure around you.
We are born to manifest the glory of God that’s within us.
It’s not just in some of us, it’s in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

Maybe, just maybe, it is that fear that keeps us from saying, “I love you, too,” that keeps us from the deep listening that results in transformation, and keeps us from achieving the real potential of Six Sigma efforts.

As always, I treasure your reactions. I’m at support@pqsystems.com


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