For over three decades, manufacturers across industries have used Six Sigma, a data-driven method for process improvement, as a means to lower costs and eliminate waste (See Part 1 of our series for a deeper dive into what is Six Sigma). To successfully employ the process improvement methodology, Six Sigma–minded organizations must focus their attention on the people that implement and follow its principles on a daily basis (i.e., their workforce).
Manufacturers need a motivated and empowered workforce to truly innovate and generate newfound savings. This requires cultivating a company culture which encourages employees to submit their improvement ideas, as well as an infrastructure that bolsters management to take the best of those ideas and implement them.
A Culture of Participation
Six Sigma relies completely on the imagination and initiative of employees at all levels. The successful Six Sigma organizations are the ones that create a culture of participation by bestowing a compelling mission upon their staff, such as eliminating inefficiency and waste. Other benchmarks of success include an organizational structure that emphasizes flexibility and independence, incentives for participation, and a lack of punishment for risk taking.
That’s not just my opinion. That’s the conclusion of a quartet of academics in a paper published in the Journal of Applied Business and Economics. In their paper, “Employee and Customer Involvement: The Driving Force for Six-Sigma Implementation,” the authors examined a company’s successful onboarding of the Six Sigma methodology into its workflow and infrastructure.
“In Six Sigma, employee participation is a precondition for increased employee satisfaction, higher levels of motivation, improved organizational performance and effectiveness, and better implementation of organizational change,” the scholars wrote. “Empowered employees feel that their organization provides them sociopolitical support, that they have greater access to information and resources than in traditional organizations, and that their work climate is participatory.”
A Change of Mindset
InfinityQS stands as the global authority on data-driven enterprise quality solutions thanks in large part to our Six Sigma Black Belt–certified leaders. They have worked with dozens of clients over the years to foster commitment among executives and management to stomp out defects and waste wherever possible, as well as to change the mindsets of employees, at all levels, in how they approach their day-to-day work.
For example, one of our customer’s shop-floor operators told me that after working with our Quality Intelligence tools, and thanks to his training, he’s made waste reduction a personal mission. And I do mean personal. He’s changed the very way he puts ketchup on his french fries. He doesn’t just squirt ketchup on his plate anymore but rather takes each fry and applies ketchup to that one fry, then he eats it so there’s no wasted or leftover ketchup on his plate. That’s a real commitment to waste reduction.
“It’s wasteful to let a smear of ketchup go in the trash can or down the drain. I can have a better experience with my fries but not make a mess on my plate,” he explained to me with a clear sense of pride. He’s not alone. When I was at home preparing to cut the grass last summer, I found myself turning over the best, most efficient ways to mow my lawn. Once you’ve been trained to spot waste, something that’s all around us, it’s difficult not to want to eliminate it wherever you can.
In a Six Sigma environment, it’s everyone’s job to look for areas of improvement. For instance, employees at InfinityQS are frequently asked for feedback and the sky’s the limit for idea potential. If you have a good idea but feel, as an individual, you don’t have the bandwidth, the resources, or authority to execute that idea, then that’s the perfect team project to brainstorm, modify, and implement.
Soldiers in basic training are taught to work together to scale a wall that’s impossibly high for an individual. They piggyback one on top of the other and the team members who reach the top pull everyone else up and over the obstacle. In a Six Sigma culture, if your idea is deemed good enough and selected to be worked on, that has an empowering effect on employees.
As employees, they see how they can make a meaningful contribution beyond checking the box on their daily tasks. They become investors with a true sense of ownership in the company and its results. The Six Sigma company that encourages ideas, fosters talent, and recognizes/rewards personal initiative, is an organization with a roster full of the best employees that money alone could never buy.
Read more in the Six Sigma blog series: