Change Management Triage for a Six Sigma Career

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Jeff Cole

The unfortunate truth in these brutal economic times is that quite a lot of very talented Six Sigma professionals are out of work. Sometimes, regardless of one’s track record you end up in the wrong place at the wrong time and fate gives you a bloody nose. The change in one’s life can be abrupt, profound, and startling.

What the headlines and articles often neglect to mention are those left behind. They too are met with vigorous challenges of their own, not the least of which is how to tackle their exponentially growing workload.

Then there are those whose Six Sigma career feels solid and safe and they see no need to pay attention to such matters. Whichever category you are in, please read on.

While I’d love to unveil the "Ten Secrets to Finding a Six Sigma Job in the Next Month", I don’t have that knowledge to share. A Six Sigma fundamental is that Y = f(x). In this case Y (Employment) is a function of multiple X’s such as demand, timing, credentials, who you know, etc. These are variable to each person. What I can share is some food for thought around how to mentally address "career shock". Once that shock wears off a bit and the dust settles a little around your circumstances, here are some things to consider regarding dealing with change in a Six Sigma career:

Your ability to bounce back swiftly from a change is highly correlated to five attributes discussed in an earlier column. Authors such as Daryl Conner and Dr. Ruthann Russo propose that to bounce back efficiently we should be proactive, positive, flexible, focused, and organized. Nice concept — but what does it mean on a practical level? Below are a few items as food for thought:

If your Six Sigma career is solid and safe:

The best time to think about and act on what you want to do next is when you are in growth mode. I recommend Harvey Mackay’s book Dig Your Well Before You’re Thirsty as an excellent guide to application in this situation. Unless you plan to retire from your current job, career change is inevitable. Get your network ready, keep your resume up to date, and understand what you want from your next Six Sigma career move. Timing is key. Have a Plan A and Plan B in place for when the time is right. If you are in a comfort zone — it may not last forever. It might behoove anyone in this situation to not get too comfortable.

If you are a corporate Six Sigma survivor:

Don’t wait for all of your former colleague’s Six Sigma projects to get dumped on you. Adopt a FMEA-mindset and have in place a strategy if this happens. Companies are often great at initiating new efforts but not so great at figuring out "what aren’t we going to do going forward?" If you suddenly had to take on five more projects — how would you handle that? Stay positive and look for ways to prioritize, automate and delegate in a triage environment. Consider cutting meeting times in half and sticking to only the key points so as to free up more productive time. Be flexible and don’t confuse activity with productivity — take a hard cold look at what can be stopped, started, and continued at least on a temporary basis in order to get the vital objectives met. There is a fine balance between short term and long term impact to be met as well. Stopping all training or prototypes may help in the short run, but over a longer period the impact could be more devastating than if they had continued.

If your Six Sigma career was impacted:

The worst case has happened — you are out of a job for months. Dozens or hundreds of talented people are lined up for the few Six Sigma jobs available with a 100-mile radius of you. Proactive in this case could mean proactively pursuing every lead and creating more leads. Perhaps it means preparing a modular resume that could be tailored at a moment’s notice to fit whatever opportunity that presents itself.

Stay positive — perhaps make a list of 5-10 positive things about your situation. Maybe study men like treasure hunter Mel Fisher who searched daily for 16 years until he found a $400 million cache of sunken gold. Every day he set sail his motto was "Today’s the day!" Study Wally "Famous" Amos who "chose to be happy" even after his company was basically taken away from him. Volunteer — help others in a tougher situation than your own.

Flexibility is vital on many levels impacting what you do, when and where you do it. If a door closes on you, Six Sigma training tells us to be prepared to climb through a window. Break out of the "local paradigm" or even the "U.S. paradigm" in your Six Sigma job search. Perhaps consider searching for international firms that have virtual positions (possibly allowing you to work from your home). Apply the tools you know — maybe a cause and effect diagram or force-field analysis can help zero in on the right vital X variable for your circumstances.

The unbearable irony of the situation is that while firms are not hiring now, this is the time they need your Six Sigma skills the most. When the economy rebounds, there will hopefully be ample opportunity for all.