A key element of my work last month with Qantas Airways in Australia involved linking customer focus, employee engagement, and process management. This month I was engaged by a national insurance company to help their executive team understand their role in implementing Lean/Six Sigma.

Jim Clemmer - Practical LeadershipMy experience with Lean/Six Sigma began in the late eighties with North America’s burgeoning Total Quality Management (TQM) and Continuous Quality Improvement (CQI) movements. My second book, Firing on All Cylinders: The Service/Quality System for High-Powered Corporate Performance, outlined a broad framework pulling together the strategies, skills, culture, and tools for a comprehensive approach. The process was very successfully used by dozens of international companies, such as American Express’ global rebuilding of their company in the 1990s around balancing customer service, process improvement, and employee engagement.

The Ecstasy and the Agony of Organizational Transformation

Lean/Six Sigma has been steadily growing in popularity because – if effectively implemented – it can sharply lower turnaround times, response rates, errors and rework, customer and employee turnover, and costs. It can also drive dramatic spikes in productivity, service and quality levels, customer satisfaction, employee engagement, safety performance, revenues, and profitability. That’s the ecstasy.

The agony is that major organization transformation efforts like this one have a failure rate of 50 – 70%. There are many reasons for that. From decades of experience with hundreds of great, good, bad, and ugly change efforts, we’ve found these Four Key Failure Factors stand out:

  • Partial and Piecemeal
  • Bolt-on Programs versus Built-in Processes
  • Culture Clash: Overly Focused on Tools and Techniques
  • Leadership Lip Service

As the service/quality movement evolved into Lean/Six Sigma, I’ve spoken at conferences on the topic and the Toyota Production System across North America and facilitated Hoshin Kanri planning processes for Toyota’s senior and middle management teams. Dozens of executive planning retreats and hundreds of workshops that I’ve facilitated have been on the underlying principles of balancing management systems and leadership skills/practices and our Transformation Pathways framework. You can read more about our experiences and services with these approaches at Lean Leadership: Energize Lean, Six Sigma, and other Quality/Productivity Improvement Initiatives.

For Further Reading