Why Six Sigma Professionals Make Great Managers

Good managers should know how to analyze facts, solve problems, make tough decisions, and inspire their employees to strive for excellence in everything they do.

How the heck do you get good at all of that?

When I think about my own managerial triumphs, it was my experience as a Six Sigma Black Belt that made the difference. I didn’t know it at the time, but Six Sigma has definitely made me a better manager. Here’s how:

Addressing poor performance

Every manager at some point finds themselves leading an under-performing team. Novice managers panic and attempt to improve results with a gimmick, such as a contest. This kind of tactic may work, but only for a short time. Some managers start randomly changing how they do things, hoping to find a secret formula. But hope is not a strategy. A core tenet of Six Sigma is Y=f(x). It means the output (Y) is defined by the inputs (x).

Using this formula, a smart manager:

  1. Determines the key inputs that drive the outputs
  2. Picks the most impactful lever to pull
  3. Engages the team in the cause
  4. Implements changes in a controlled fashion
  5. Measures the impact

You have to “go slow to go fast.” I’ve learned it’s far better to plot the right course of action rather than rushing in willy-nilly.

Decision making

Everyone likes to tell stories. When something goes wrong, a manager will often hear about it in the form of a story, also known as “anecdotal evidence.” But anecdotes are not really evidence. Credited with the launched of the quality management movement, W. Edwards Deming said, “In God we trust, all others bring data.” Managers must learn to listen to the story but demand more hard evidence before deciding what to do.

Another Six Sigma concept is the notion of normal variation, which means that your results will likely fall within a range based on historical data. Uninformed managers falsely agonize over and celebrate meaningless changes in their results. I’ve learned to resist the temptation to act until the facts are gathered, including supportive and compelling data.

Everything is process

Yes, everything. Don’t believe me? The definition of a process: a series of actions or steps taken to achieve a particular end. Think about what you do in the morning to get ready for work: turn off the alarm, get out of bed, go to the bathroom, take a shower, etc… Now, imagine getting ready using these same activities but in a different order. Not a pretty picture is it?

Nearly everything we do all day long is a part of a process. Unless you have been schooled in a methodology like Six Sigma, it’s easy to make some big mistakes when things go wrong. Often a manager will fixate on “Who screwed up?” The better question is “Why did the process fail?” “A good process is one that is easy to do right and really hard to do wrong,” said my Six Sigma instructor. More often than not, the process failed, not the person. I’ve learned to examine the process first, identify the defects, and design a better process in collaboration with the employees who use it the most.

Never stop improving

A former colleague used to say, “It’s not who’s better that matters. It’s who’s getting better, faster.” In our modern world, organizations, departments, and teams must constantly challenge their status quo or risk extinction. Six Sigma encourages organizations to continuously measure, examine and improve their processes. Methods such as DMAIC and PDCA are effective weapons in the fight against a “that’s the way we’ve always done it” culture. I’ve learned to use Six Sigma’s toolkit to create a culture of continuous improvement within my team. Doing so has allowed me to condition my team to not only expect change but to drive it.

Overall, Six Sigma has taught me to be a process-oriented, fact-based and data-driven manager. These attributes make a manager better in the long run. I’m not suggesting Six Sigma is the answer for every management challenge. In fact, my next article will cover how Organizational Change Management (OCM) strategies and techniques have helped me get people to embrace change. OCM is a critical set of management tools because ignoring the human side of change is a terrific way to fail.

This article was originally posted on LinkedIn