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Overcome Lean Six Sigma Resistance with "What's In It for Me?"

Contributor: Peg Drummond
Posted: 09/30/2009
Peg Drummond
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Let's face it ... any change in any organization will meet with a certain amount of resistance and skepticism.

We are creatures of habit and habits are inherently difficult to change...especially at work. However, when you are the agent of that change and what you are driving is process improvement, there are unique challenges involved. This is especially true if you were never taught the people skills essential for smooth continuous process improvement implementation. Executing process change effectively requires skills that are not necessarily in any Lean Six Sigma training manual.

You Need More Than Just Technical Skills for Successful Lean Six Sigma Deployment

Implementation of Lean Six Sigma requires more than just your technical skill set. In fact, sometimes the more technically qualified you are, the harder you may find Lean Six Sigma to implement. Why?

Lean Six Sigma does have a comprehensive set of technical tools with which you can approach any business process. However, even the best presentation of your analysis—the "facts"—does little to counter the resistance and skepticism of your team.

Success with Lean Six Sigma at the Implementation Phase does not depend on your technical abilities. Implementation is the step where you transform Analysis into changed behavior on the part of the front line personnel. Lean Six Sigma implementation depends almost exclusively on your people skills. These skills include:

  • Your ability to quickly establish your credibility and create a context of trust and respect
  • Your skill in leading effective meetings, keeping the team focused and on track
  • Your ability to ask quality questions that keep the group engaged and involved
  • Your skill in communicating the benefits of process improvement
  • Your ability to engage the team and hand the process over to them

When you focus too heavily on the technical side of Lean Six Sigma, you can unintentionally get in the way of these people skills tasks. Analysis in a vacuum will never engage the team in the process of changing their work habits.

Try This People Skills Tool for Effective Lean Six Sigma Deployment—"What’s In It for Me"

Here's one people skills tool that will get you started on the right foot with a new team—"What’s in it for me" (WIIFM).

The first step to successful implementation is empathy. Do your best to mirror your perspective/viewpoint to that of your team members.

  • Why do they want to be on this team?
  • How can they benefit from the improved process?

In short, they are all asking themselves, "What’s in it for me?"

This question is a fundamental aspect of human nature. People will naturally take actions that result in a personal benefit. When each member of your team understands what’s in it for them, they can decide whether or not to participate.

This completely natural process on the part of your team has an important implication for the Lean Six Sigma practitioner. Skillful and rapid implementation involves taking some time to "sell" the benefits of Lean Six Sigma to your team.

This is not that difficult when you practice empathy and adopt the perspective of a team member. Think about the benefits of a fully implemented Lean Six Sigma project for a moment—not the benefits to the organization or the bottom line—think about the benefits to your team members on the front line.

In most cases, they will get more done, in less time, without working harder and can now take on the higher level job tasks that are more fulfilling. They also get to play a role in this redesign process. That is their WIIFM.

Power Tip

You can even involve the team in clarifying their own "what’s in it for me" by asking a few high quality questions in your first meeting.

Let's brainstorm for a second. When the workplace is organized and we have made the line improvements that are the focus of this project,

  • How will your work day be different?
  • What will you be able to stop doing?
  • What else will you be able to devote some time and attention to that you cannot now?
  • How will all that feel?

Taking some time to establish what's in it for them at the onset of the project is not in any Lean Six Sigma training manual and it is a vital people skill for continuous process improvement success.

Try this WIIFM approach and notice the difference it makes in your relationship with the team.


Thank you, for your interest in Overcome Lean Six Sigma Resistance with "What's In It for Me?".
Peg Drummond
Contributor: Peg Drummond