Street Smart Six Sigma Sponsorship for Process Change

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Jeff Cole

Leaders are naturally busy, so I’ll get straight to the point: In the two and a half minutes it will take you to skim this article, I’ll share some tactical pointers for Six Sigma sponsors and champions, which will allow you to more effectively drive process change and lock in your financial gains.

Understand the Importance of Managing Process Change

First, it’s important that leaders understand the importance of the human side of a Six Sigma process change. Your teams can create the best processes in the world, but if the people in your business don’t follow those new processes, you’ve lost your investment. When Six Sigma projects crash and burn, it’s typically not because one of your Black Belts used the wrong option in Minitab—it’s usually something to do with the human side of the equation. Take a look at your training—how many weeks of Six Sigma technical training are your teams receiving vs. how many training days (or hours) on architecting the human side of a change are they exposed to? World-class sponsors ensure the human side is solidly attended to by providing proper change training and tools to their teams. They review efforts on the human side of the process change in tollgate reviews and ensure an established change model is integrated into their Six Sigma approach.

Be a Willing and Able Six Sigma Sponsor

Secondly, sponsors must be willing and able to fulfill their role in a Six Sigma effort. Effective Six Sigma sponsorship is highly correlated with several attributes. Think about these factors in relationship to the Six Sigma efforts you are currently sponsoring:

Six Sigma Sponsor Ability
  • The best sponsors are those with the ability to "legitimize" a process change in their organization. They let the organization know they mean business about a change and can articulate a strong, succinct business case for the change.
  • Great sponsors have a very clear picture of the vision or "desired state" and are not shy about communicating it to their people.
  • They understand the resources required to get from the current to desired state and are able to commit those resources to the project.
  • They are able to understand the size of the group impacted by the change and how the change will affect the organization.
  • The best sponsors can understand and empathize with the personnel issues generated by a process change. They are able to engage in two-way communications with the organization and show the personnel they are being listened to.

Six Sigma Sponsor Willingness
  • The most powerful sponsors have a significant degree of dissatisfaction with the status quo. The current process is causing them pain and they are willing to pursue the process change that will relieve the pain.
  • Great sponsors visibly demonstrate their public role by pursuing multiple ways of communicating support for the process change.
  • Behind closed doors, the best sponsors fulfill their private role in supporting the change through private one-on-one conversations with key stakeholders.
  • They are willing to invoke consequence management—rewarding those who engage in and move the process change forward and implementing negative consequences for not engaging in the new process.
  • The best sponsors engage in tollgate and other plan reviews—proactively looking for and addressing problems and removing roadblocks for their teams. During reorganizations, they handle sponsor turnover effectively.
  • World class sponsors are willing to ensure their actions match their words and are willing to sacrifice for the project—even when the costs are high.
Next Steps for Six Sigma Sponsors

The ultimate Six Sigma effort would include an assessment of sponsor and champion effectiveness, identifying any gaps and providing coaching and support to close them. Begin with considering how the sponsorship across your organization stacks up against the checklist shown here. It will provide a good starting point for dialogue and action planning.