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Most change management challenges include new technological tools, and most of them have familiar IT acronyms

Putting Six Sigma to Work Delivers on Radical Business Transformation

Radical business transformation is an essential part of business growth, but that transformation is dependent more on process than it is technology - and on creating a culture of change within the business that has buy-in at every level. Technology vendors often tout the transformative potential of products, but when those initiatives fail to deliver? A company must take a deeper look at the reasons because it may not be the vendor or flaw in the technology, so much as the problem lies within the corporate culture.

Most change management challenges include new technological tools, and most of them have familiar IT acronyms - TMS and TBM and CRM and ERP - all of which need to perform in alignment with the reasonable expectations of the corporate decision-makers who chose them for their data advantages and automated process efficiencies. That investment is often sizeable, but unless a similar commitment is made in orienting the workforce to the goals that the systems are designed to achieve, the finance team will be wondering why they're not seeing the ROI numbers while everyone else feels the frustration.

"Change management strategies designed for major transformative projects - and for that matter, fairly routine ones - need to reflect a deep understanding of not just what processes are going to change and the factoids that attach, but why these changes are integral to the future of the enterprise," said Mike DiLeo, President of Management and Strategy Institute. "The why answers that illustrate the targeting of new business opportunities, or the need for more end-to-end visibility in logistics, or above all the dynamic shift to customer-facing priorities driven by mobile tech, need to be communicated with exceptional clarity so that all employees are engaged and motivated."

Before that can happen, the leadership team needs to believe in change that other stakeholders will be willing to make happen. "That's where Six Sigma methodologies pay off in creating the organizational culture and conditions in which transformation can occur - and to encourage that dynamic development," said DiLeo. While it may not be necessary to ensure that every person in the value chain is Six Sigma certified, we offer five distinct steps in this article that should be taken to ensure a successful business transformation.

  • Across the organization are key individuals who know what they want the business to look like, but they don't necessarily have a shared vision of what changes need to occur and how best to implement them. They also don't all have C-suite nameplates on their doors, and they need to be engaged in designing the transformation process because of the depth and diversity of their perspectives. One of the greatest assets that Six Sigma is designed to cultivate in any organization is a cross-functional team built on collaboration, and organically prepared to lead the change management process. Creating a roadmap and emailing it to them isn't going to work, because these are travelers who make their own roads. Identifying that team begins the Six Sigma journey.
  • If you ask most people, they understand that Six Sigma is focused on projects - but that's not really where you want a change management team to go next. The traditional value of Six Sigma is rooted in the assessment tools that first brought results in the manufacturing environment. Those Six Sigma results were the product of methodologies that looked for customer value in all phases of operation, and honed in on inefficient practices or costly error rates that needed to change with the end user always in view. Training a team, and to some degree all employees, in a problem-solving framework and a way of thinking about strategy that puts customer experience first will facilitate process change that matters now - and cultural change that matters forever.
  • Yes, there are likely to be employees across most firms who have experienced more than one iteration of "change management" or that have emphasized quality by any other name. What's transforming business now, however, are tech tools that really, truly are a game-changer this time - but that doesn't mean the overburdened and long-suffering IT department has to stay while everyone else is free to go back to whatever they were doing. Quite the opposite is true in the sales channel, in HR, in transportation, in customer service, and solid Six Sigma training creates a framework for change management that's driven by data and the cultural shift that data demands.
  • The Six Sigma reliance on valid metrics, and especially the need for quality analysis of them, is critical to achieving meaningful and actionable insights that serve as a basis for transformation. Staff who are trained in Six Sigma understand why these steps are critical to organizational plans. In today's climate, that means far less skepticism and eye roll about "change management," and Six Sigma principles begin to work in the organizational culture in the same way it's said that medium always shapes - or is - the message. Six Sigma process communicates change in motion.
  • Motion is what everyone across the organization expects to see happen. At the highest levels of management, that motion needs to be expressed in strategies that cut costs, build the customer base - and deliver on the ROI promises that they've advocated from the start. That's true at other levels, where all employees want to see the results of the transformative growth they've chosen to support. When Six Sigma leaders begin to design and implement projects, they're engaging in change management and its best practices from the start. The Six Sigma project focus on process improvement isn't always tactically smooth - there are always lessons learned, and that's the point - but when launched, these projects help to create discovery and opportunity. And they do it in a culture that welcomes change, because in a sense, that's the first real "project" of Six Sigma.

Remember that part about communicating why change needs to happen in order to navigate a successful, forward-looking business transformation? The Six Sigma methodology for improving quality communicates the "why" in relevant and visible ways that employees experience in a direct, hands-on approach that leads to their own investment in positive change. Smart companies looking to invest in transformation know that they have when they see that buy-in - and start reaping the Six Sigma benefits in terms of cost savings, customer satisfaction and reputation.

About Laureen Fagan
A senior PR counsel and thought leader, Laureen Fagan has 15 years experience as a media and PR professional, which includes her stint at CBS and Fox broadcast affiliates in the U.S., and in print and wire-service newsrooms in Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Jerusalem.

She received her MSJ from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism, and completed additional graduate study at University of Notre Dame in Theology / Hebrew Bible that includes French, Arabic and Hebrew study.

In addition to tech and business, Laureen creates informed content and deep analysis on international affairs, healthcare, culture and religion.

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