Lean Six Sigma: A Compliment to Leadership Development?

Does Lean Six Sigma compliment a Leadership development program or is it in conflict?

Lean Six Sigma is a process improvement methodology. The idea of improving process is not new however. The tools remain a constant. Only the name changes with some refinement that continues to make the process more robust. Therefore, how does Lean Six Sigma compliment a leadership development program?

Skilled practitioners have embraced a new paradigm, one that compliments leadership development.  Why?  Business Optimization, the name I prefer for Lean Six Sigma, is more powerful as a blended model. Composed of Process, Talent, and Change Management, all of which are leadership components, a natural blend results. The blend ensures analytics complement leadership skills, not compete with them, and it makes sense. Analytics in the absence of good leadership practices, and regard to people, can be cold hearted and single minded. Leadership without the compliment of some level of analytics could result in decisions that are not fact based, those that are based on influence or power.

So skilled practitioners blend Business Optimization with Leadership Development programs to introduce a powerful model that is both process and talent centric. They recognize that the perceived competition is imaginary and bypass it to ensure that business solutions are well thought out principle-based deliverables. They are built from a talent pool that are good leaders, who have been taught the principles of leadership, and recognize that partnership with process experts results in accepted and sustainable solutions.

Does Lean Six Sigma compete with Leadership programs in order to replace them? Is it the same as leadership development? Not by a long shot. They are complements in the most profound way possible. They bring talent and process together as a dynamic duo that is fully armed with the tools and mindset to move the business forward.

The Offshore Black Belt

Is sourcing black belts off shore for the sake of cost introducing a risk?

When you consider the role of the black belt recognize that analytics are only a small part of their responsibilities. One of the most critical roles a good black belt brings is that of a change agent. This requires interaction. The concept that you can offshore interaction falls short of building the important dynamic of team synergy.  That dynamic, working together as a collaborative group to achieve the most robust answer, is a significant problem solving enabler.

Lean Six Sigma is a strong fact based approach to solving problems. As such it refines the current state to an improved future state. Problem solving in industry has existed for many years with that purpose. Refinement requires analytics, but it also requires socio sensitivity. It means interacting with people to identify solutions to problems. It means embracing change face to face and all of its dimensions carefully.

The human interaction of making decisions, some of which are difficult, comes with a cost. Personally and professionally people are affected by process improvement initiatives. Decisions can be simple or complex and are often difficult. People do understand that difficult decisions must be made. Everyone understands that their job may become unnecessary. Those that refine the organization today may find themselves the recipient of future changes. Wouldn’t they want to be treated with dignity, with compassion. That begins with providing it when you are in a position to do so.

I find the concept of off shoring compassion and socio sensitivity hard to accept. If the black belt is truly a change agent, fully accepting of their responsibilities, they must be visible to the organization. They must coach the change. This requires attention. Personal attention.  Face to face attention.

Is Lean Six Sigma Dead?

Lean Six Sigma is dead! I’m sure you’ve heard this said. It’s time has come and gone.  The luster has faded. it was the flavor of the day. We need the newest process improvement tool set.

Simply Lean Six Sigma is the most recent evolution of process improvement methodologies. Following a regiment of toll gates, and associated tools, it is a recipe for applying critical thinking to solve a compelling problem.

But is it dead?  Said more correctly, it is evolving. The creativity and inquisitive nature of the human mind will never die, therefore Lean Six Sigma will never die, it will evolve, and process improvement will remain healthy. 

But how is Lean Six Sigma evolving? Progressive practitioners have realized that just tools and analysis are not the answer for implementing robust solutions to business problems.  The model is shifting to a more involved problem solving community. This means getting people involved.  All people, belt aside.  The new paradigm is that everyone should have and take ownership in the health of their business. The result, a high quality of work life and truly sustainable solutions.

The role of the Lean Six Sigma leader is therefore changing to one of skilled practitioner/coach.  This person facilitates discussions and uses tools, sparingly, to get practical and knowledge based solutions. It requires a change in mindset. The result, a strong balance between analytical and pragmatic. It engages people who have deep subject matter knowledge and their instinct to derive the answer. Your role as a coach is to tease that out, complimented with the analysis that supports making the right decision. The result, ownership. It is “Sticky”. It is not an external answer that is “thrown over the wall” to people who will live with the result. It incorporates process-talent-and change management to their fullest potential. It is satisfying and rewarding.

So is Lean Six Sigma dead? Not by any means. It is indeed changing.  Those who are serious about it’s longevity will shift to a more balanced model. It will be equally focused on people and process, balance change management with analytics, and build a new set of team dynamics.

Problem Solving Exists across a Socio-Technical Spectrum

Socio-Technical change is vital to active, balanced, and robust problem solving.

Originally developed at the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations in London Socio-Technical Change has become the foundation of both Quality of Work Life efforts as well as organization design and restructure. Every Process Improvement effort results in redesign and structural change.  Addressing Socio-Technical Spectrum enables success.


Socio influences 

are important to employee well-being and satisfaction.  If employees are highly valued, people are attracted to the workplace, and retention is high. Socio norms become shared standards of behavior which in turn entails certain expectations of behavior in a given situation. Methods of addressing healthy change are defined in the theories of “Change Management” and “Influencer”.

Technical influences 

focus on goods and services.  They are defined by the scope, goal, and objectives of the improvement. Technical norms become the operating procedures for the business. Methods to address products are found in the roadmaps defined for process improvement. 

A healthy sociotechnical system results in a high quality of work life. Developing positive change from both the business and people perspective derives value to customers, stakeholders, and those people delivering the products and services.

The Lean2 approach embraces this change dynamic.  Ample time is spent in the formation of the problem statement to address the norms, fears, and enablers for change. Deliverables are developed that address not only goods and services but the human energy that makes businesses successful. Coaching is the enabling factor.