This is part of the series The Role of the Six Sigma Black Belt. The concepts and ideas presented also apply to other improvement professionals and leaders implementing improvements in an organization.
The Change Agent Role
Once I was working with a plant manager in Latin America to facilitate an all day session to roll out a new operating plan from the plant. We had planned a very interactive day to ensure the start to this transition would be effective. When I got there I found out that the two ‘big guns’ from corporate who were architects of the plan were in town and prepared to take over the meeting to present the business case and laying out the plan, the new operating goals, the financials, and the new roles and responsibilities, all in good Six Sigma lingo. The HR manager was there with stacks of paper containing the new job descriptions. It was obviously too late for me to change course so I sat in the audience as an observer.
It soon became obvious that despite the solid business case and the impressive presentation, this pitch was going downhill fast! There were many genuine questions and concerns from the audience. The two presenters, despite all their credentials and experience, were struggling to get any traction. During the first break I made my move with the plant manager and the rest of the day we proceeded with a modified plan from the original plan we had for the day. We turned the meeting over to the audience and it became their meeting. We were able to salvage the day and get back on the same course the corporate guys wanted, we just took a different route. Very different!
It was Kurt Lewin who said “if you truly want to understand something, try to change it.” This certainly applies to change in organizations and it’s something the Six Sigma Black Belt finds out early on. Realizing that there is more to organizational change than having a good solution for a problem is the first step. Common wisdom says that effective change is a function of a solid technical solution and acceptance of the solution by the people. To that I would add a third factor, discretionary behavior change. To use an analogy…as with a heart transplant, the patient’s body needs to accept it (regardless of how good and healthy the heart is). The patient also needs to adopt new behavior (exercise, diet, medication, etc.) in order for the heart to work for a long time.
The Six Sigma Black Belt is equipped with subject matter expertise and specialized technical tools to solve problems. What they are often not equipped with is change know-how and tools. I’ve trained many BBs in these very tools and the feedback I’ve often heard from them include these two: “I wish I had gotten this training when I first started my Six Sigma training” and “these issues (acceptance, politics, etc.) are what I spend 80% of my time dealing with.”
There is a process and there are tools to help implement change effectively. And obviously I believe the Six Sigma BB (and most importantly, the organization they serve) would be well served by being trained early on an effective change management process and tools. I also believe there is much BBs can do now to increase their effectiveness as change agents. I’ve covered some of these points in previous posts in this series, but for those looking for one specific practical recommendation, here it is…
Reframe your view of “resistance” by examining 1) why people react the way they do, and 2) what you are doing that may contribute to that reaction. When you come to see change from the eyes of the beholder, you realize that 99% of the reaction to change is not resistance at all but rejection of the solution (not the same thing). When you realize that what you do contributes to either a negative or a positive reaction to the proposed solution, then your approach changes.
Obviously, there is much more to this than it’s practical to cover in a blog entry, here I’m just trying to create awareness about this critical role. In the end, your effectiveness as a change agent (whether you are a Black Belt, a Quality Manager, a Lean Sensei, or any other type of change implementer) will depend on your ability to generate acceptance to the solution and create sustainable behavior change that is grounded on choice, not just compliance.
If you would like to discuss this topic or any of the topics covered in this series, please contact me for a no-obligation discussion. I also welcome your questions, comments, and views.