A three decades long trail of failed organizational change efforts stretches back to include excellence, customer focus/service, total quality management, continuous improvement, team building, reengineering, employee engagement, process management, strategic planning, new technologies, IT systems, safety, and Lean/Six Sigma. And that’s to name just a few!

Balancing Doing and Being for Organizational ChangeFailure rates of these efforts are 50 – 70% about eighteen to twenty-four months after they’re launched. Many organizations now have a sky-high "snicker factor" for the latest change initiative. "Here we go again" is often the response as eyes roll and people learn what new buzzwords they’ll be subjected to and tools they’ll be "sheep dipped" in.

After my blog post, Lean Leadership: Boosting or Blocking Lean/Six Sigma Tools and Techniques, Jeff Liker, Professor of Industrial and Operations Engineering at the University of Michigan and I had a stimulating e-mail exchange on the Four Key Failure Factors raised there. I’ve been a fan of Jeff’s work since reading his book, The Toyota Way: 14 Management Principles from the World’s Greatest Manufacturer a few years ago. This book gets much deeper into the "soft" leadership behaviors and culture development that have made Toyota so incredibly successful at implementing many of the "hard" tools of continuous quality improvement.

Jeff wrote:

"I absolutely, 100%, agree with your four key failure factors:

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

If I were to rank these I would probably put them in reverse order with leadership on top. I might write it a little differently:

  • Leadership lacking deep understanding and commitment
  • Focus on tools and techniques without understanding the underlying cultural transformation required
  • Superficial program instead of deep development of processes that surface problems solved by thinking people
  • Isolated process improvements instead of creating integrated systems for exceptional customer value"

I agree wholeheartedly! Leadership is at the top. I don’t present this list in priority order. I leave leadership to the end because I then spring off of that to get into our Commitment Continuum and to make the point about the role and behavior of the management team leading the organization as the single most critical variable to successful implementation of tools/approaches like Lean/Six Sigma.

After further discussion about Toyota’s recent crisis and Jeff’s brand new book, Toyota Under Fire: Lessons for Turning Crisis into Opportunity, just out this spring (stayed tuned for my next blog), Jeff made an observation about Lean/Six Sigma that’s equally applicable to the long string of other failed change efforts:

"Originally Six Sigma was derived from Toyota Quality Management (TQM) by Motorola to achieve six sigma levels of quality and then through Allied Signal and GE it morphed to projects by black belts based on statistics to become a cost reduction program — every project needs a clear ROI. In other words, we denigrated the program from a leadership philosophy to a bunch of one-off projects to cut costs. It was a complete bastardization of the original and it rarely led to lasting, sustainable change because the leadership and culture were missing.

A similar thing happened to Lean which got reduced to a toolkit (value stream mapping, KPI boards, cells, kanban, etc.).

Lean/Six Sigma in no way reflects the original thinking of excellent Japanese companies or their teachers, like Dr. Deming."

Right on! Implementing lasting organizational changes and constant improvement is about balancing a way of doing (tools and techniques) with a way of being (behaviors and culture.) Living the "soft" side of change and improvement is really hard — and vital to enduring success.