Top 5 Leadership Characteristics for Process Improvement Success

Recently during a visit to the GSA conference held in San Antonio, I had the opportunity to speak with several people in the federal government about Lean Six Sigma. In most cases they shared with me that they had “tried” Lean Six Sigma and it did not work or “we did that and are now moving on to the next thing.” When probed during the event about the reason for limited success or for moving on to a different approach, in most cases they blamed leadership for not committing time and resources.

In fact, this is a very common issue with organizations launching Lean Six Sigma or any process improvement method. More often than not, leadership feels they can delegate Lean Six Sigma to someone else and in the end the results are less than expected and the effort runs its course.

Leaders who embark on a significant change or improvement program need to realize that in most cultures good change is only change that happens to someone else. People are comfortable with the status quo and the limited risk associated with leaving things alone. To overcome this, senior leadership needs to not only commit to Lean Six Sigma but become committed to Lean Six Sigma – that is, become a zealot and expect success.

The characteristics for leaders who have successfully introduced any process improvement effort are well documented, but they bear repeating now:

-Be passionate and visible
-Empower and inspire others to act
-Break down barriers to success
-Ask “why not”
-Set the vision and walk the talk

In a recent article from the Washington Post by Steven Pearlstein he highlights a recent success where Secretary of Energy Steven Chu showed leadership in breaking through paradigms and reducing the amount of time to process a grant application from years to less than 3 months. In the article, Pearlstein correctly highlights that “the only way it works is with strong, consistent leadership and involvement from the top of the organization.”

In almost 20 years of working with leaders with lean, TQM, Theory of Constraints, six sigma and other improvement programs, what has consistently determined success or failure was the actions of the organizations leaders. So, if you are a senior leaders and asking yourself why your process improvement or major change initiative is not delivering the results in the brochure – look in the mirror.

By Ron Wince, CEO of Guidon Performance Solutions
Post taken from The Ascent Blog: http://blog.guidonps.com

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Les Yamagata

It’s true that there has to be commitment from the organizational (senior leadership). There needs to also be commitment on behalf of employees. In several instances, there are employees who are, unfortunately, quite cynical about these types of change initiatives or “change de jour.” They’ve been through quality management, TQM, six sigma, and have had their fill of Deming, Juran and Crosby. Also, while there is a distinction between lean (increasing efficiencies) vs. six sigma (reducing defects/variations), it is still difficult to parlay these business improvement philosophies from the manufacturing (widget) environment to professional services processes.

Ron Wince

All good points Les. Have you read the book “We Don’t Make Widgets” ? It speaks to some of your points.

That skepticism you speak is in just about every organization – government and commercial. The challenge is always how to break through and get results. It’s one of the reasons when we formed Guidon we were determined not to approach every client situation with a hammer – not everything is a nail. Every culture, every leadership team, every “business” situation is unique so it is important to create the best roadmap with tools from performance management, technology, talent, leadership, lean, six sigma, etc. etc. to “get stuff done”. We’ve found a lot of success by using more of a “Dell Model” and customizing the approach – including in the dozen or so states and federal agencies we work with. One size will never fit every situation – unfortunately too many think one general approach works all the time.