Corporate leaders — particularly those in industrial sectors — must constantly seek balance between three critical organizational priorities: maximizing quality, optimizing operational efficiency, and ensuring occupational health and safety.
Delivering on all of these counts effectively demands data-driven process improvement. As such, leaders across sectors have turned to Six Sigma, a methodology introduced by Motorola in the 1980s and popularized by General Electric in the 1990s for improving performance and productivity.
Six Sigma strategies begin by identifying the root causes of defects and variability in business operations or manufacturing processes. Once these issues are identified, quality management processes led by specialized employees are put into place. Each process is guided by a sequence of steps (define, measure, analyze, improve, control) tied to value targets, keeping teams focused and results-oriented. When implemented correctly, a true Six Sigma process boasts a 99.9% defect-free success rate. Additionally, research indicates that there is a connection between the effective implementation of Six Sigma initiatives and the reduction of workplace injury rates — in fact, Motorola was able to reduce slips and falls by 50% within the first two years of implementing its Six Sigma initiative.
Becoming a Six Sigma expert is a lengthy, resource-intensive endeavor. As such, companies often select only a handful of leaders to undergo Six Sigma training. These leaders are then expected to translate their findings into processes that propel the company toward greater productivity. The reality is, most frontline employees struggle to commit to an initiative they have very little understanding of. As a result, Six Sigma experts end up overextending themselves and micromanaging in an effort to keep their new systems moving forward. When taken together, these circumstances create an additional challenge for leaders: ensuring the Six Sigma process sticks.
To truly reap (and sustain) the benefits of a Six Sigma initiative, leaders must cultivate a culture of accountability in which employees at every level own the improvement process.