Six Sigma, the Japanese process-improvement practice made famous stateside by GE’s Jack Welch in the 1990s, has been deployed in a broad range of businesses, including service industries such as healthcare and hospitality, as well as manufacturing businesses like Motorola, where Six Sigma first began. Can a system designed by and for the Fortune 500 help small businesses with their challenges too?
“I think Six Sigma can be used absolutely anywhere,” says process-improvement and change management consultant Kelly Kita, president of InsightLines Inc., which specializes in consulting with service organizations. “It’s even how I organize myself in my own home. Unfortunately, because it was large companies that deployed big Six Sigma programs with a lot of staff supporting them, a lot of smaller organizations have thought, ‘oh, that’s not for me.’”
For Efficiency, Trim the FatIn fact, Six Sigma can help businesses of all sizes cut costs by eliminating waste, like duplicate paperwork, excess inventory and overstaffing. And it can help reduce costly defects in products or services that can erode customer satisfaction and employee morale. The Six Sigma approach to problem solving uses metrics such as process speed and percentage of defects to identify the processes that matter most to the products or services you provide.
The metrics relevant to a Six Sigma initiative require compiling and analyzing data—probably more data than most companies typically collect. Hiring a Six Sigma consultant can help companies without the internal staff to take on a Six Sigma project. “It makes a lot of sense to bring in someone who has seen this work in a lot of different ways with a lot of different types of companies and cultures,” says Kita.
Slow and Steady Wins the RaceIf you’re just getting started with Six Sigma, start small and don’t take on too much too soon. Once you start thinking about making changes, it’s easy to see opportunities for improvement everywhere you look. But making too many sudden changes can lead to frustrated employees and unhappy customers. “A lot of businesses have started down the Six Sigma pathway, made mistakes, dumped it and decided that Six Sigma wasn’t any good,” Kita says. “Really, they hadn’t figured out how to make it work for them because they were trying to do it all themselves.
The Six Sigma process can empower employees by eliminating frustrating roadblocks and getting them involved in implementing new solutions. Even so, it’s common to encounter resistance as you start to shake up the status quo.
“I always say, people need three things in a change situation,” says Kita. “First, everyone affected should be assured a voice. They want to have a two-way conversation about what’s going to happen next. It really matters to them. Secondly, they need to feel safe. They need to know they’re still going to be employed. Third, they need to drive their own bus. If you’re going to make changes, they’re going to need plenty of time to mentally prepare for what that means and decide how they’re going to act.”
Note: The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of FedEx.
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