Lean Six Sigma Top to Bottom and Everywhere In Between

Getting the buy-in of senior leadership to a Lean Six Sigma deployment goes further than just getting them to embrace DMAIC, says Jeffrey Koff, director of Lean Six Sigma Initiatives at Xerox Corporation. As PEX Network launches Tales from a Master Black Belt column this month, Koff gives top tips from Xerox on growing support for Lean Six Sigma at all levels.

When implementing change in the workplace it never hurts to have the boss on your side, and orchestrating broad Lean Six Sigma deployment is no exception. Having the support and buy-in of senior leadership has been instrumental in the success of Xerox Corporation’s program, but it goes further than simply getting leaders to embrace DMAIC.

It means having alignment of thought from senior leaders, to middle management, to the operational teams who problem-solve on the ground for the company every day.

To drive this, we must put the right tools and methods into the right set of hands—a job that requires flexibility from leaders and input from different levels to keep a Lean Six Sigma program relevant and valuable.

We need buy-in from leaders at all stages to support the Green Belts, Black Belts and Master Black Belts who have already accomplished great things for the company, as well as the newly trained practitioners who are just starting to make their mark.

A Heritage of Support - Xerox has a long history of Quality Management

This diverse selection of trainings and opportunities to grow within the program did not spring up overnight. There has been a focus on quality management at Xerox Corporation since the early 1980’s when the Leadership through Quality (LTQ) system was introduced.

This set of business process improvement techniques was launched and encouraged company-wide. In 2002, Lean Six Sigma was infused into the Xerox culture by former Chief Executive Officer, Anne Mulcahy. This data-driven program systematically measures, analyzes and improves all aspects of a business.

Anne led from the front and showed commitment and involvement, driving interest in Lean Six Sigma across the organization. Our current CEO, Ursula Burns, continues to view these methodologies as a key support mechanism designed to help Xerox achieve its overarching business goals, thus benefiting every employee.

One Size Does Not Fit All

The far-reaching influence of the CEO can give a strong push to the culture, but it cannot affect large-scale change on its own. Senior leaders need to be advocates and help infuse Lean Six Sigma into the culture by actions such as inspecting for and encouraging the use of LSS methodologies throughout all levels of the organization, as well as, encouraging high performers to be become practitioners as a way to promote career growth.

Building that advocacy in among those in leadership roles is best achieved by providing a clear understanding of business impacts. So, bring the skeptics round by showing them the results, pair that with support for employees who wish to become practitioners, and you are on your way to being part of a team that can really take advantage of the power of Lean Six Sigma.

Even when executives are shown the benefits of Lean Six Sigma and are brought into the fold of believers, it isn’t always natural for them to implement a process until it is tailored to their respective business units. The ability for business unit leaders to put their own stamp on how Lean Six Sigma is applied within their group makes for a much more natural fit.

Organizations that are focused on business operations, for instance, may shape their Lean six Sigma activities around daily improvements or alignment with strategic initiatives. Marketing functions may shape their LSS activities around gathering and analyzing Voice of the Customer. Development activities may shape their LSS activities around optimizing performance and reliability.

Big Ideas Born in Feedback – Project Selection and Review Process

One of the ways that senior leaders stay in touch with how Lean Six Sigma is working within their teams is through the project selection and review process. In these reviews leaders assure that Lean Six Sigma is aligned with their long term strategies and delivering meaningful business results. Most reviews also include discussions on how to influence the organization to further a customer connected problem solving culture, bring LSS principles to bear in daily work.

Those discussions were the basis for the development of QwikSolver™, the newest tool available within Xerox, which follows basic Lean Six Sigma ideas. This method is simple, quick and based on discovering the root causes of a problem through a systematic analysis of data. It is, at its essence, Lean Six Sigma for everyone.

The idea to expand QwikSolver from Green Belts/Black Belts to everyone and use it to build a stronger problem solving culture came directly from feedback our team received from members of the leadership team in our European group. They wanted a way for each employee to contribute to the benefits of Lean Six Sigma processes to daily operations.

Currently, 2,900 employees have been trained and are using QwikSolver in their day-to-day activities, supporting a goal to eventually have pervasive use across the company.

How to Grow Support for Lean Six Sigma Culture

Having such an established culture around Lean Six Sigma makes working with the program at Xerox a rewarding and engaging experience. If your organization is just starting along this road, or is struggling to obtain support from leadership, these tips will help grow support:

Tip 1: Communicate benefits

Communicate why Lean Six Sigma is a benefit to each employee in their position. Does a solution derived by data make life easier for the employee by implementing better processes? Or does it decrease stress throughout the unit by creating a better run environment? Senior and middle management need to see the reasons to motivate their teams to get trained and use the methodologies.

Tip 2: Create a supportive environment

Those who have been trained in Six Sigma should be fostered and supported - it will be an incentive for others to engage. Additionally, if everyone can see and identify with the benefits that are realized from the Green or Black Belts’ work, it will encourage others to integrate LSS into their every day work processes.

Tip 3: Encourage senior leaders to reward the right behaviors

Corporate leadership should set expectations on the use of data driven problem solving and recognize those that meet this expectation. Through Lean Six Sigma, they will be able to reward employees for preventing problems, not just solving them — fact based analysis can help find the underlying issues in the business before they create a crisis.