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The Social Success of Six Sigma

~ David Straker ~


-- Introduction -- Creating commitment -- A truer understanding -- References --

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Creating commitment

Business improvement systems are more than the bag of tools or improvement framework that other approaches have used. Six Sigma succeeds first and foremost because it addresses the question of managing the whole approach to improvement. It does this through a number of ways: some obvious and some more subtle.


Six Sigma is more than an improvement toolkit – it also engages managers in activities such as championing projects and programmes. When people are involved, they become more committed.


The cost of implementing Six Sigma is very high. For example training costs of a single Black Belt can be up to 15,000 – which is on top of which is their salary and other expenses. This payment alone is enough to draw the attention of senior company managers, who are likely to want something back for their money. Six Sigma also requires senior managers to personally invest time and attention, which only adds to their commitment to its success.


The standard approach to Six Sigma is to ‘give it teeth’, for example in the way GE requires its businesses to constantly make and report significant improvements. When managers are measured on the changes they make, then in the words of the old saw ‘what gets measured gets done’.  Black Belts are also often given positions of authority, adding to their expert power in being able to convince people to engage in improvement activities.


Perhaps it is accidental, but the psychological effects of using detailed statistics and the Eastern symbolism of martial arts leads to a mystique that often surrounds Six Sigma. Where people see something as complex, uncertain or mysterious, they are unable to categorise it in a limiting way. This mystique thus leads to self-fulfilling beliefs, where assuming the possibility of significant improvement gives space and energy for them to occur.

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