Six Sigma training should begin with the managerial ranks of the organization so that managers are prepared to lead the effort. Motorola’s director of training and education estimates that the company wasted $7 million training from the bottom up. General Electric (GE) learned from this mistake, to Jack Welch’s credit.
Initially, Welch required that anyone seeking promotion to a management position be trained to at least the green belt (if not black belt) level. A year later (effective January 1999), all professional employees should have begun green belt or black belt training. Considering that this directive encompassed 80,000 to 90,000 employees, it sent a clear signal that all levels of management would be leading the Six Sigma effort (Slater, 1999).
Other firms have since adopted this model as an effective way to reinforce the Six Sigma methodology throughout the organization. Studies have shown that employees are much more likely to use specific business tools if their direct management uses the tools. Employees want to speak a common language. Conversely, if management won’t use specific techniques, employees are likely to abandon their use as well, feeling that the tools have been discredited or misunderstood by management.
The overall objective for senior management training is an understanding of the link between program success and business success. Managers should integrate the program into the business strategy so that completion of each Six Sigma project leads toward achievement of particular business goals. Likewise, they need to continuously promote and sponsor projects that strive for these goals.
If all levels of management do not see the vision laid out for the Six Sigma program, then deployment becomes stagnated or undermined. These are the hidden signals of a doomed Six Sigma deployment. Upper levels of management can help to overcome these problems when trained properly as Six Sigma champions.
Lower levels of management also need to clearly understand the methodology. As first- or second-line department managers and supervisors, they have to see how they and their personnel fit into the deployment scheme. Resource reallocation will have perhaps the greatest impact at their level: Personnel will be reassigned from their departments to become full-time black belts; many of the remaining employees will be diverted for week-long green belt training and then to participate as project team members; processes will be disrupted for experimentation, data collection, or process redesign.
Departmental managers must not think of themselves as mere “victims” of the Six Sigma deployment. In fact, their functional areas will show measurable improvements through deployment of the Six Sigma techniques, if they are applied properly. This improvement can only occur through strong leadership at these local levels. Thus first- and second-line managers (and their functional areas) will benefit greatly from “getting onboard” through green belt training, which will offer the deployment skills needed for success. Eventually, all employees should be trained to a green belt level so that they can participate effectively in Six Sigma teams.
An effective executive leadership course includes agenda items and workshops to develop immediate and longer-term outcomes, as shown in Table 2.1: An initial three- to five-day course will be sufficient to identify potential hurdles and to develop detailed plans for outstanding issues (as required). Generally, organizational-level Six Sigma projects will be deployed to develop the detailed metrics and data capture needed to track the customer, employee, and stakeholder issues. Each project is championed by the appropriate executive and led by an organizational master black belt (or consultant) whose project team includes the relevant management stakeholders in the process.
Learn more about the Lean Six Sigma principles and tools for process excellence in Six Sigma Demystified (2011, McGraw-Hill) by Paul Keller, in his online Lean Six Sigma DMAIC short course ($249), or his online Green Belt certification course ($499).