Beware the travelling salesman but use his techniques

Jeff Cole

Change is all about execution. If you are trying to successfully implement a Lean Six Sigma project, you may have to alter the behavior of dozens or hundreds of people who don’t report to you. Bottom line: process users need to stop doing things the "old" way and start doing them the "new" way. In essence you have become a salesman. Your product in not so much the new process as it is behavior change. It’s one thing to own a treadmill. Using it daily is a whole different affair. Your process is utterly useless unless people engage.

Think outside your Six Sigma box for a moment. Hands-down, the undisputed kings of driving mass behavioral change are the large marketing and advertising firms. They are so good at it, your behavior changes and you don’t even realize it. These are the geniuses who are said to have doubled shampoo sales by simply putting "rinse, repeat" on the bottles. They popularized the use of six packs versus buying individual bottles. And speaking of that 20 oz. soda on your desk, it used to be only 8 oz. The list goes on.

Today, marketing is fueled behind the scenes with analysts slicing and dicing data warehouse feeds from CRM systems. Let’s go old-school for a moment – back to a simpler time and simpler model that served many Madison Ave. firms well in the day. The formula was AIDA – Awareness, Interest, Desire, Action. If you want somebody to buy your product, first make them aware of it, get them interested, and make them desire it to the point they take the action of purchasing it. How would that help you on a DMAIC project?

Awareness: Starting in the Define Step of Six Sigma you should be developing a communications plan that you execute through all the DMAIC steps. Do not wait until the end to "advertise" your project. People need to be exposed to your change multiple times before they really become aware of it.

Interest: When you build the business case for your DMAIC charter statement, you should be articulating your Vision (What’s in it for the user) and your Burning Platform (Bad things that happen if you don’t implement the change now). Use both of these in your communications to spark interest among your target audience.

Desire: Most purchasing decisions are said to be driven by emotion, even though we want to think we’re making those decisions based on logic. Granted, it’s hard to inject emotion into a new invoicing process. But, if your new process will relieve pain that people are feeling, it’s easier to leverage that. Excitement is an emotion. At a minimum, ensure that all the people executing your communications exhibit the excitement. All else being equal, consumers tend to buy from people they like. Leverage that in terms of who you have doing the communicating for your project.

Action: Ask for the sale. Ask your audience to engage in the new process – preferably in a non-threatening or no-frightening way. This may take the form of training, seeing a demo, participating in a trial or pilot, attending a kickoff, etc. Make it as easy as possible for people to follow the new process. Simultaneously, make it as hard as possible for resistors to try to do things the old way.

All told, every Six Sigma practitioner would be well served to realize that we are all in marketing, advertising, and sales regardless of our title. Happy selling!