The title of this series refers to the Six Sigma Black Belt, but the concepts and ideas expressed here apply equally to any improvement professional and leader trying to implement improvements in an organization.
Part I: The Question
Early in my career I had the chance to become trained and certified as a Six Sigma Black Belt (a trained practitioner of process and quantitative tools to improve process performance by practically eliminating errors and variation in a process). The company had fully embraced Six Sigma and selected a number of individuals to participate in a two-year rotation program to become certified Black Belts.
Black Belts were a “selected” group of experts “deployed” to save the company (ok, that’s a bit dramatic). Needless to say, the whole movement was not without controversy and though the company did achieve good success there were lessons to be learned.
As I started my two-year rotation, I found myself leading team meetings where I was not the subject matter expert, with people I barely knew, trying to improve a process I understood very little about (yes, quite interesting). That was the case for many of my fellow BBs. Soon I noticed a pattern in our experience.
In our haste to “close projects” (this is a very important requirement for certification), we had become task masters. Often we were doing all the data gathering and crunching, identifying solutions, and more often than not we were stuck trying to implement the solution on our own for the most part. Many of us were a team of one!
The result? Sure, we closed projects, many of them, the documented gains impressive but once the Black Belt left, things went back to where they were within weeks and sometimes days. Often the project wasn’t even implemented.
Needless to say…this is NOT what the company wanted or expected. There are multiple reasons why this was the case. In this series I will only explore one reason, and, no, it is not change management, though that is one very good reason (that’s another series). The reason I will explore here is even more fundamental than that, and one that has implications for many other roles in large organizations where one is expected to bring about change without authority.
So, why did we fail to be as effective as we should?
Because we didn’t really understand our role as Black Belts. So, what is, or should be the role of the Black Belt? These are the roles we will explore in subsequent posts:
I will share my view on each role. Yes, it is a biased and limited view, but one gleaned from observing and hearing many BBs that have come through my training workshops. More to come…