Lean Six Sigma (LSS) practitioners often express concern about gaining support to implement and maintain a continuous improvement program. These issues reflect frustration in both senses of the word – personal frustration as well as experiencing attitudes that obstruct the program’s effectiveness.
In order to achieve buy-in, three sets of skills and methods have proven to be effective. They are as follows:
- Using an evaluated step-by-step approach to change management.
- Identifying and trying to overcome change aversion.
- Using influencing concepts to persuade reluctant stakeholders to participate.
Step-by-Step Process for Leading Change
John Kotter, a Harvard Business School professor and author of the book Leading Change, made two claims about leaders:
- Every leader who followed Kotter’s specified eight steps of leading change saw that the change that they were leading produced positive results and
- That every leader who came to Dr. Kotter after a change had failed to gather momentum was able to determine the missing step in the change process.
The eight steps outlined by Dr. Kotter is summarized below, along with examples of how these steps can be used to achieve buy-in for continuous improvement projects and programmes.
1st Step: Establish a Sense of Urgency to Confront Reality
People are naturally comfortable in their present situation and oppose change unless there is a compelling reason to do so. Step 1’s outcome is essentially a convincing business case for change. Why is it important to make this change? A crucial first step is to articulate that convincing reason – the problems with the contemporary reality that motivate an individual, a group, or a corporation to motivate others. The project charter, if accepted and endorsed by relevant stakeholders, will provide this convincing reason, the urgency for a specific project. For a larger initiative, such as incorporating an entire LSS programme, a significant amount of effort may be needed to identify major problems that are preventing the organisation from moving forward and thus provide convincing motivation and engagement.
2nd Step: Forming a Guiding Coalition – Early Stakeholder Engagement
According to Dr. Kotter, implementing change on your own is not only solitary and tedious, but it is also ineffective. Combining Steps 1 and 2 to form a guiding coalition that shares your sense of urgency and then brainstorming ways to clearly articulate the “burning platform” may be necessary. The team is the apparent coalition for an individual project, with the addition of a managerial sponsor or Champion committed to the project’s success. Key stakeholders, such as management sponsors or Champions, would make a strong guiding coalition for an LSS programme – particularly if the LSS programme can be shown to align with their own goals, the organization’s “must- do’s” moving forward.
3rd Step: Defining the Vision
The vision is defined as creating a new product or improving a process that can be a team-building activity that leads to a crucial deliverable for a small-scope project, a larger-scope program, and the convincing vision that the stakeholders will share with the broader organisation.
The vision can initiate and create the project charter for a project with a smaller scope. An effective set of steps for determining the vision for a larger-scale project might be:
- The burning platform is clearly articulated by the senior manager/executive. After that, the stakeholders brainstorm the issues, starting with the ones raised in Step 1.
- Stakeholders brainstorm keywords, sentences, and terms that appear to be relevant.
4th Step: Communicating the Vision
Once the vision is polished so that it is brief and sounds convincing, then it has fulfilled the first part of the equation:
Quality x acceptance = effectiveness
This equation explains how the efficiency of a proposed change within an organisation is determined not only by the quality of the change and the preparation for it, but also by the organization’s willingness to accept and even embrace it.
5th Step: Empowering Others to Act on the Vision
Frustration is unique as it describes both the symptom and the root cause. If people become angry and discouraged, it’s possible that something outside of their control is stopping them – discouraging them – from achieving their objectives. The role of a champion is to support individual project leaders and Black Belts to remove roadblocks in their work.
Members of the guiding coalition should keep their fingers on the pulse of the organisation for roadblocks and impediments to a large-scale project. They should use their expertise and authority to remove roadblocks when they sense dissatisfaction.
6th Step: Generating Short-term Wins
Short-term victories benefit a team in a variety of ways. They are:
- Provide support and rationale for the project or programme with proof.
- Deliver a sense of achievement to your audience.
- Provide the executive team with constructive input.
- Critics and cynics will be undermined.
- Managerial support should be bolstered.
- Assist in the development of pace.
Six Sigma projects that follow the DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyse, Improve, Control) methodology are ideal for low-hanging fruit. Through process mapping and the identification of non-value-added activities, they identify opportunities for quick wins in the Define and Measure stages. Furthermore, team-building activities such as brainstorming and fishbone diagramming can achieve noticeable, small-scale results.
7th and 8th Step: To Consolidate Gains and Anchoring New Approach in the Culture
An acknowledgment system for groups and individuals should be provided by any development plan. It need not be expensive and complex but should have proper visibility. People often feel respected when they are encouraged to share their accomplishments with management and others within their organisations, as well as presentations to other organisations. Town Hall meetings and management reviews are great venues for expressing gratitude. Staff meetings, newsletters, bulletin boards, posters, and banners can all be used to acknowledge individuals and their contributions. If the work is truly exceptional, the company can be recognised by choosing and acknowledging their project as exemplary, having it videotaped as an outstanding success story, or having team members speak at a conference.
Recognize and Overcome Change Resistance
People usually dislike it when others impose something on them because it means that their previous efforts were inadequate, ineffective, or inferior. While dealing with resistance to change can be frustrating and difficult, it can also be a positive trait because it demonstrates critical thinking, which is an important leadership trait.
The key to dealing with change resistance is to first identify the key stakeholders, which are typically managers and individuals who will be implementing the change, as well as people who will be affected by the change. Then, identify the sources of their reluctance and meet with them to resolve their problems – listen, empathise, and work with the reluctant people to either find a solution or persuade them to engage in a “willing suspension of disbelief” until the desired results are achieved and the issues are addressed.
Applying Influence Principles to Engage Resistant Stakeholders
Professor of psychology and marketing Dr. Robert Cialdini identified six concepts of influence. They are as follows:
- Reciprocity: We want to repay favours and pay off debts, so we want to reciprocate and respond positively to generosity. When team members assist one another, it fosters teamwork in part due to the reciprocity principle of influence.
- Consensus: People would judge their behaviour based on the actions of others. Individuals would follow the direction of a team in a team setting if there is general agreement.
- Authority: People are more likely to listen to or be convinced by someone who appears to be an authority or knowledgeable in the subject matter. An enthused executive will assist in keeping team members engaged.
- Commitment: People want to be consistent, so they make a conscious effort to do so. When people commit to something, they are more likely to follow through, demonstrating to themselves and others that they keep their promises.
- Liking: People are more likely to cooperate with people they know and who appear to be similar to them in certain ways.
- Scarcity: People have an inherent desire for things that appear to be difficult to acquire or have a limited supply.
These proven step-by-step processes for leading change, identifying and overcoming resistance to change, and implementing influence principles to engage resistant stakeholders will help Six Sigma practitioners gain support for their programmes. These methods have proven to be extremely effective in a variety of industries. Acknowledging the people’s side of execution yields immediate benefits in terms of buy-in and support, but it also encourages long-term relationships.