Lean and Six Sigma Behaviors

By Mike Lopez:

Before Lean, many of the activities that are presently structured as Lean projects used to take place anyway. They flew under corporate radar because the communication pathway was not established to let management know about these grassroots level improvements. Management would find out about them from powerpoint presentations in much the same way they presently find out about scientific work.

Lean has created a transparent reporting mechanism through the use of standardized charters and outbriefs. This reporting mechanism raises the activities into the radar. All of a sudden, management knows what is going on and asks questions. The positive side is that if you can execute, measure, and show improvement, you will be celebrated, given more freedom, and more responsibility. The negative is that if you don’t, the transparent system will not let you hide.

You will be given more chances, but sustained underperformance will not be tolerated and eventually management will take action. (Everyone fails once in a while. If you never fail, you aren’t taking enough risks.) So, the transparent system is great for very communicative high performers. Of course, this is the type of person that companies like Toyota, Motorola, and GE seek. These companies use the systems of Lean and Six Sigma to encourage certain behaviors that lead to high performance among their employees. They reward employees based on these high performance and communicative behaviors.

Companies that have struggled to execute successful Lean and Six Sigma compaigns have not grasped that the secret is not the tools. The secret is the reward and reinforcement structure behind the behaviors. Lean and Six Sigma processes set the stage for proper behaviors, but they do not cause proper behavior. Proper behavior is caused by the positive reinforcement of proper behavior. That is from Psychology 101. The tip here is to know that Lean and Six Sigma are transparent systems that allow management to see and reward high performers.

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3 Comments on "Lean and Six Sigma Behaviors"

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  1. Mark Francis says:

    Mike observes, “(Everyone fails once in a while. If you never fail, you aren’t taking enough risks.) Jim Womack has observed that, at Toyota, meeting all your goals in a project means that you did not set them high enough. One role of hansei (critical reflection) is to create institutional memory [lessons learned] that will facilitate future improvement.

  2. Jamie Flinchbaugh says:

    One point: the type of people Toyta hires and GE hires are very, very different. GE hires people with great ambitions who want to rise above the pack and receive recognition. Toyota hires people that just want to do good work, they don’t need special, personal recognition and aren’t constantly pursuing that next promotion. If you want advancement and to be a star, Toyota isn’t for you. You are there to serve the system. Doesn’t sound good? No problem – they just wouldn’t hire you. The biggest comparison between GE and Toyota is that they both know exactly what kinds of people they want, and they get them.

  3. Ralf says:

    Mike,

    you are right: before you use the tools there has to be a vision or goal. As compared to the Soccer World Cup that is still on, without the vision to win the game by getting goals (more than your opponent is getting; the final vision is getting the first place!) it’s of not much use to have training for the center forwards or the defenders.

    But how do you set up the vision in the minds of the colleagues, bosses, partners, etc. what LEAN really means: just produce what the customer wants and is willing to pay.

    This mind setting change seems to be the real task of LEAN!!

    Best regards from Leipzig

    Ralf

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