Category Archives: Leadership

Selecting Lean Six Sigma Thoroughbreds

galloping-thoroughbred-horse-the-irish-image-collection-Over the course of 10+ years of working with organizations striving to improve what they do using lean Six Sigma (LSS) I’ve come to the realization that success lies in three key elements.

  1. Working on what matters to leadership
  2. Picking the right people
  3. Providing coaching support

First and foremost is picking the right stuff to work on.  There isn’t anything that’s even a close second in my opinion.  You’ll often read that the number one reason for LSS failure is a lack of leadership support, but I would argue if you dig a little deeper as to why the support isn’t there it has to do with what is being worked on.  Work on the stuff that matters to leadership and you won’t have anything lacking!

Work horses, donkeys, and thoroughbreds.

A second area that leads to success is what I want to focus on in this post-picking high performance project facilitators.  The analogy I like to use relates to the types of people that work in most organizations.

From a statistical perspective you can view this as a normal distribution in that most people tend to fall into the “work horse” category.  These are the individuals who come to work each day and do what they are told to do, but never seem to live up to their true potential. Essentially, they do the minimum to not get punished, but hardly ever give any discretionary effort.

Another group, thankfully much smaller but in some organizations are very disruptive, are the “donkeys”.  They kick at everything that comes their way and are generally pessimists about not only work, but life in general.  They find a $10 bill and complain it wasn’t a $100 bill!  The sad thing about this group is that despite their small size they tend to get a lot of attention!

The final group, the group you want to be selecting your future LSS facilitators from are the thoroughbreds.   They seek to win every race they get into.  They put in the effort to succeed and strive to achieve maximum performance every time they line up to take on a challenge.  The problem is there are not many of them in most organizations.  They are a rare breed and have no shortage of requests to help coming their way, and in some cases, they have the ability to perform, but no time to do it.

Gallup research on workplace engagement suggests similar numbers to what I’ve seen with organizations I’ve worked with over the past decade when selecting thoroughbred LSS facilitators.  The latest data suggests the following:

32% engaged (thoroughbreds)

51% not engaged (work horses)

17% disengaged (donkeys)

Think of it this way.  In your last LSS class 2 students were the pessimists of the group cracking off the sarcastic comments, saying this won’t work here, etc.  Five of the students didn’t care one way or the other.  They spent much of the time checking instant messages, email, and their Facebook page.  Then there were the three who really got into it.  They asked a lot of questions, came prepared, were on-time coming back from breaks and lunch, and they left with more energy than they came with.  Sound familiar?

Finding more thoroughbreds and fewer donkeys.

The challenge is finding more thoroughbreds than donkeys in your organization, but how do you find them?  I would argue that your search begins by identifying who are the future leaders of your organization.  These are the rock stars of the future you want leading your LSS efforts.

Think of it this way…They are the future “seeds” being planted today that will eventually “sprout” into leaders who will then “pollinate” the organization with the process improvement philosophy, mindset, etc.

We talk about process improvement being more about culture change than anything else, and how do you change culture?  I would argue it starts with your people.  People create culture.

Picture five years from now when those who are individual contributors start entering the leadership ranks and by that time have led a number of process improvement projects and have seen the value of focused process improvement.  Now, in the position of a leader, they will begin to cultivate the same attitude in their direct reports, and as leadership goes so goes the organization.  This is when real culture change related to process improvement starts to happen.

You could ask a hundred questions to identify potential thoroughbreds, but overall you want to feel secure that they are going to be a future leader which starts with some simple questions to the candidate, their supervisor, and their peers.  Consider these questions:

  • Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
  • Does the business view this person as having “leadership potential”?
  • Where does their current supervisor see them in 5 years?
  • Where do their peers see them in 5 years?

The other two key elements that lead to success initially that are worth inquiring about are how the individual manages their time, and how their supervisor views and feels about process improvement.  The two biggest short-term failure modes I experience with my coaching clients is that despite their passion for improvement and leadership potential what often sinks them is their inability to manage their time well and / or a supervisor who doesn’t see the value of LSS.

Finding thoroughbreds isn’t easy, but if you ask the right questions the top performers emerge, and the donkeys will get left behind in the stable.  Eventually they will move into the leadership ranks and that’s when real positive change begins to take place.

Choose to serve instead of being served.

hand-in-serviceI often help clients select people to get involved with their process improvement initiatives, and typically the process takes the form of evaluating the key characteristics that lead to success, and then searching the organization for people who have those characteristics.

There are a few “no-brainer” things that we always look for such as a mindset for improvement, future leadership potential, the ability to analyze processes and data, etc., but one characteristic I believe that stands out from the rest is having a servant’s perspective on the role they play in solving problems and helping others do what they do better.

Putting others first.

At the heart of a servant’s attitude is a focus on helping others.  When you become second and others become first you’re on the way to having a servant’s attitude.  Unfortunately, the “selfie-society” we live in today promotes just the opposite perspective, which makes finding these people quite the challenge in many organizations.

Good leaders must first become good servants.

Robert K. Greenleaf

To some degree I can see why we are so selfish because in every organization I’ve either been an employee or consultant my performance has been measured solely on what I have done, not on what I’ve helped others do.  I’m not suggesting this is going to change any time soon, but what can change starting today is your attitude toward helping others.

Seek to serve instead of being served.

Becoming someone who is focused on serving instead of being served isn’t all that challenging once you have the correct perspective.  Start with putting yourself in the position of those you are striving to help.  What is it you can do to help them look like a rock star?  What passions and talents do you possess that could be used to help others succeed?

You have something to offer others in their quest to improve.  Find what that is and put it to work and the ironic thing is that your good work will come back around to you and by helping others succeed you too will succeed.