The Secret Formula for Managing Change

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Jeff Cole

You can have the best process in the world but if the humans who need to follow that process don’t do so, you’ve wasted your time, says columnist Jeff Cole. For those readers that may just be starting out on their Lean Six Sigma journeys, here are a few tips when it comes to managing the human side of your Six Sigma project.

The Secret Formula

For years now there has been a simple formula floating around the process improvement world that helps illustrate why you should get interested in change management. The formula? Q x A = E or more formally Quality x Acceptance = Excellence.

Quality is a code word for you following a process improvement method like Six Sigma. Excellence is all about you improving your process on time and on budget with the results you anticipated. The A in the formula is the most important – Acceptance is all about the humans impacted by your process change engaging and following the new process. I’ve written this before but it bears repeating – you can have the best process in the world but if the humans who need to follow that process don’t do so, you’ve wasted your time. Many people will tell you that the "A" part of the formula is by far the most difficult part of the equation.

A Mismatch?

There are over 400 books in print about Six Sigma and countless classes one can take. If you crack open a dozen or so six sigma books and look at the ratio of content about the technical side of process improvement (tools and statistics) versus how to change the behavior of those impacted by the process change, you would see the technical side far outweighs the human side. However, when process improvement efforts fail, it’s typically not because of an error on the technical side but due to a failure in fostering acceptance of the change. Change management in and of itself is a broad and deep body of knowledge rivaling that of six sigma. More needs to be done to even up the distribution of training materials, but what can one do today?

Getting Started

Unlike six sigma text books (almost all of which will lay out the steps of a method called DMAIC), change management books are more like diet books. Every one says something slightly different. They all have their successes (and almost none discuss their failures). So what should someone new to this do to get started? Here are a few tips:

  • Go to the library or local book store and lay out a half dozen change books by different authors. Skim them and pick several to read in more depth. Despite what they will tell you, there is no one "best" change management method (everyone will claim to be the best). Pick a method you are comfortable with and makes sense for your organization. (One book I like that is dedicated to the Q x A = E formula is "Making Six Sigma Last" by George Eckes. Daryl Conner’s "Managing at the Speed of Change" is also a great reference.)
  • Don’t make change management a "separate" activity as part of your improvement efforts. Don’t speak of it separately and don’t have a separate department for it. Rather, weave it into your existing improvement methodology. Build it into your process improvement training going forward, but you may need a separate change management training just to catch people up.
  • As you integrate it into your existing method, be sure to start the change related tasks early-on and continue throughout. One mistake some have made is to wait until the rollout phase to even think about the human change component. The earlier you start the less resistance you will encounter during rollout.

If you are just starting out in your efforts at change management I envy you – ahead lies a very invigorating journey into a fascinating body of knowledge. Put the secret formula to work for you starting this week!