Engaging Senior Management: Deployment Champion

Author: Russ Aikman

Posted: January 2017

TMAC hosted a LSS Deployment Champion Symposium for our customers on November 16-17, 2016. Champions and senior managers from nine different companies participated in the symposium, representing industries ranging from food & beverage and logistics to jewelry-making, retail, building products, aerospace, energy, and healthcare. Despite the variety – or perhaps because of it – participants freely shared both successes achieved and barriers ahead for their Lean Six Sigma Programs.

We explored several key challenges which all Deployment Champions face. Regardless of industry or size of the deployment one over-arching challenge for many Champions is: How to engage senior management? Before answering that question let me be clear on three things: Champions are the individuals in charge of coordinating a LSS Program. Their responsibilities include: scheduling training, selecting projects, identifying GB & BB candidates, tracking results, etc. In general, senior management refers to anyone who is a senior vice president level or above. This typically includes the president, CEO, COO, CFO, CIO, etc. and is sometimes referred to as the ELT – Executive Leadership Team. For smaller firms it would include the business owner.

What is meant by engagement? First, it is not limited to such high-level tasks as setting policy, reviewing annual plans and approving program funding.  These are important activities but real engagement requires a more active role and includes:

  • Lead by example with a clear, consistent message
  • Communicate the ‘burning platform’ (Why do we need to change?)
  • Establish how LSS will become ‘business as usual’
  • Hold the organization – and themselves – accountable
  • Participation in steering committee activities, including project selection & prioritization
  • Participation in team activities such as kaizen events and gate reviews
  • Participation in rewards and recognition activities
  • Selecting the best and brightest individuals for key roles in the LSS Program
  • Promoting LSS, especially how it will help achieve strategic objectives

Engaging with senior leaders can be addressed at the project level – through Green Belts or Black Belts, or even better, the Project Sponsor. But in general the best practice is to leverage the LSS Deployment Champion to engage the ELT. In some ways, this responsibility is the single most important one for champions because it sets up all other activities they perform.

As part of the symposium in November we had champions from two of the programs discuss their process for engaging senior leadership. Here is a summary of their presentations:

  • Interstate BatteriesWill McDade: Although the LSS Program at IBSA is somewhat new (started in 2015) Will previously led the program at Dr Pepper for several years.
    1. Set breakthrough goals – Choose an area where success is likely, make sure senior management participates so they experience it firsthand; Will is a big proponent of the kaizen approach, and emphasized such experiential activities as key to success. He also stressed the importance of setting stretch goals.
    2. Identify key influencers to informally drive change – Not necessarily ELT members, but those individuals who are respected; Examples include: Plant managers, department managers, sales managers, senior engineers, etc.
    3. Communicate early wins – Track results and use both formal & informal channels to communicate outcomes; ‘bang the drum’ for LSS often
    4. Win over or remove blockers over time – Most ‘doubters’ will support the LSS program once success occurs. For others, get them involved in projects directly OR through the incentive program; As a last resort, remove those blockers from the process
  • USG CorporationDeb Maki : The LSS Program at USG started in 2010 and Deb serves as one of their champions who oversees LSS in Distribution. Other champions include Scott Feste (Corporate) and Tim Blubaugh (Operations).
    1. Align corporate goals with plant and individual goals – Flow down the goals using the hoshin kanri model (AKA Goal Deployment), including goals for GBs & BBs
    2. Track projects carefully – Establish a dashboard for champions and senior management to review projects using a consistent, standard process
    3. Set up regular communication sessions at each level – Establish meeting cadence :
      • MBBs – Weekly meetings with belts, monthly meetings with plant managers
      • Champions – Weekly meetings with MBBs, identify projects/areas of need
      • Senior Managers – Monthly meetings with Champions, communicate needs
    4. Establish and share key reports – Document project status, use visual management for projects, belts, and facilities (red/yellow/green); Make sure finance validates results

Each firm is different, and it is important to develop your own approach to engagement. But active, hands-on involvement was mentioned by multiple champions as a key to success.

Interested in learning more about the Deployment Champion Symposium or our LSS Sponsor & Champions Workshop? Please contact us for details.

More about Russ Aikman:

Russ is the LSS Program Manager at TMAC, and started the program in 2003. He is a Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt with over 30 years of experience working in a wide variety of industries, and with small firms up to Fortune 500 companies. He has taught dozens of LSS classes from Yellow Belt up to Master Black Belt. He has also coached hundreds of LSS practitioners on their projects and advised managers on their LSS program. Before joining TMAC he worked at George Group, the first firm to integrate Lean and Six Sigma.


Comments (2)

  • Rod Curtis

    Great points for discussion with my manager here, Russ! A point of contention that I have dealt with and many of my fellow BB is that the senior manager within the organization often fails to convey their commitment beyond the BB level. let me explain, the manager has direct reports that the BB works with. If the manager does not check on the progress with his/her direct reports, often projects have a tendency of being less successful as the project goes on. in simpler terms, if its not important to the senior manager, it will not be important to the direct report.
    Its great to have weekly updates with the BB but the manager must have periodic contacts or updates with those other than the BB that report to him. This is when he/she has the opportunity to drive home the importance of the LSS process. All too often, I find myself needing to remind those that are above me and my colleges within this facility that the projects are not “my” projects, they are the plant’s or the department’s project. my job is to help them sort out the issues and facilitate the progress.
    I have often spoken with my MBB about the need to drive home the importance of Senior Management Standard Work, were they are trained on their importance to the hold process. its not just showing up for the kick off meeting and the phase tollgates.
    Anyway, that’s my 2 cents! Thanks for all you are doing to make us all better.


    • Russ Aikman

      Hi Rod – Thanks for your insight and feedback. Actually, while working with a company here in Texas I recommended the idea of Leader Standard Work as a great mechanism to help lock in LSS project results. The key is to establish a cadence of regular activities for supervisors at all levels, from shop floor up to Senior Management. The percent of time spent performing Leader Standard Work can be fairly low for top management (~5%) but is much higher for supervisors of front-line staff (~30-50%). Another key is for managers at all levels to understand the role that LSS plays in achieving the firm’s strategic objectives. Basically, the idea of hoshin planning in action. Developing this sort of company culture takes a lot of time and real commitment. Good luck!