Monday, 20 February 2017

Six Sigma Black Belts – Why does it make them Better Leaders?

A survey of more than a thousand business professionals whose companies are using Six Sigma revealed that leadership development programs which involve Six Sigma training are six times more likely to be called “highly successful” than those without. Many of these leadership development programs involve a Black Belt track for future leaders. Hence, the apparent question is, what skills and proficiency do Six Sigma professionals acquire that gives them an edge as leaders?
Modern Leadership Capabilities
Hands-on experience is emphasized in the certification requirements for becoming a Black Belt. Which typically include:
1. Successfully completing multiple major improvement projects in different functional areas.
2. Working in their Six Sigma position for three years.
3. Helping Champions in project selection.
4. Leading, training and mentoring multiple Green Belts in the use of Six Sigma tools and techniques.
Having met the above requirements, Black Belts would have normally gathered a wide range of insights into the general leadership competencies.
  • Functional Expertise
  • Business Knowledge
  • Design, Process Improvement and Management Know-How
  • Change Leadership Ability
  • Develop Clear and Promising Pathways
  • Provide Additional Training and Coaching

Black Belt-trained leaders learn the value of staying close to processes, the “nuts and bolts” of “how work gets done”. Through analyzing and improving multiple processes, Black Belts also gain a deep understanding of the procedures their associates are working in. Associates, in turn, are most apt to have confidence in and trust leaders who “know the way it is” on the shop floor or in the backroom.
Through their process improvement projects, Black Belts accumulate important understandings of their company. They gather knowledge about the products/services offered by their company, business strategies and objectives, relevant markets, customers and their requirements and of course, about many core and enabling processes. They also know a lot about roles and responsibilities within their organization – who does what, who makes what decisions, who is an expert on what subject etc. This gives them the advantage of a “broader than usual” perspective of the business, not to mention a large informal network of contacts.
In addition, Black Belts have proven that they can achieve measurable business results. They have learned to select projects with high leverage, which means they know how to concentrate on “business and strategy” related issues. They are less apt to be distracted by low-priority issues.
Probably the most important lesson a Black Belt learns is causal thinking. Thinking in “cause and effect” relationships and focusing on the vital few root causes not only helps in day-to-day problem solving, it also is the basis for breaking down strategic or business objectives into their most contributing influence factors. This is critical when selecting the appropriate projects and improvement activities in the area of their responsibility and when setting performance goals for their associates. A Black Belt-experienced leader uses dashboards showing the most important leading and lagging indicators to continuously monitor and if necessary, improve a business unit.
No less important, Black Belts get used to making sound and solid decisions based on data. This means they use facts to validate cause-and-effect relationships, ex: when verifying whether an investment will significantly improve a given situation and thereby will pay off. A Black Belt in a leading role therefore asks associates for data when they have to make a decision and they teach associates that they themselves should not rely on gut feelings when doing their daily work. Black Belt trained leaders ask the right questions and keep asking questions.
Last, but not the least, Black Belts learn to think cross-functionally, i.e., in a process-oriented way with not only external but also internal supplier-customer relationships. In a leading position, former Black Belts therefore structure their area of responsibility along key processes. They design the jobs in their department according to these processes. And of course, they are eager to continuously improve the processes. If necessary, redesign the processes they own, always driven by the internal and external customer requirements. Process management charts help them to pro-actively manage these processes.
Having completed multiple process improvement projects, Black Belts have experience in facilitating change. Normally - they are asked to start on a small scale in their small project environment to drive change. They learn on a manageable scale on how to deal with and overcome resistance to change. They are trained in such “soft skills” as active listening, influencing and communication. After their tenure as a Black Belt they should have developed appropriate means to deal with people’s natural resistance towards change, to solve interpersonal and structural conflicts and to successfully guide people through the difficult and emotional rollercoaster like transition phase. In particular, trained Black Belt leaders learn to identify and to influence the important stakeholders in order to gain their commitment.
Leadership Development Using Six Sigma
How can a company now achieve all these benefits? What is the best way to integrate Six Sigma and leadership development? Here are some guidelines for businesses and human resources professionals.
Select the Right Talent
In order to ensure leadership success from the start - for Black Belt training, select only those people who are assessed to be good potential leaders. Black Belts should be the best people in a company. Many companies therefore select employees who have been identified as having high potential and sometimes even management trainees as Black Belt candidates. A Black Belt candidate should be…..
1. A self-starter who can work on their own initiative with minimum supervision.
2. Able to lead, train, mentor and work in a team.
3. An effective communicator at all levels.
4. Able to effectively work at multiple levels within the organization.
5. Computer literate and competent in mathematics and elementary statistics.
6. Energetic and enthusiastic and have a passion for excellence.
Designated Black Belts should know from the beginning that their assignment is just temporary - typically for 2 or 3 years. They must be assured that, after this period they can move into an attractive leadership position. A promising pathway helps retain Black Belts in the company.
In addition to the knowledge and skills Black Belts acquire when working as process improvement experts and change agents to be a successful leader, they need know-how and competencies in such areas as…
# Developing and implementing strategy
# Financial planning and controlling
# International organization development
# Performance management
# Marketing and sales effectiveness
Conclusion – A Great Tool for Growing Leaders
Six Sigma is a disciplined, result-oriented and hands-on approach tool for developing critical leadership competencies such as influencing without formal authority, making decisions based on facts, managing change and leading teams of associates. Six Sigma has a “self-financing” nature since Black Belts must complete several projects with significant impact on bottom-line results. 
When supported by a rigorous selection and career planning process, the Six Sigma Black Belt experience is a tremendous vehicle for growing a company’s pool of leadership talent.
Thus, the return on (leadership development) investment is much higher than for many other leadership programs. 
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