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Practitioner Selection: Common Mistakes

Author: Mike Boyte

Posted: September 2021

The game is tied. With only two seconds remaining, it comes down to one play, one decision to decide victory or defeat. You choose the player with great past results to get the most out of the current situation. He’s never let you down. He’s always present. He is a leader among his peers. He commands respect and his teammates love him. Maybe he is even known as the “future of the organization.”

He is your quarterback. And now you’ve asked him to kick a field goal to win the game. The outcome? He completely shanks it, because he’s never kicked a football in his entire life. How can this be? He succeeds at everything he’s done for the team.

For most of us, the answer to the above scenario is simple. Why in the world would you assume your quarterback could kick a field goal simply because he’s successful at his day-to-day job?

Interestingly enough, I’ve seen this happen, time and time again, when companies select candidates for Lean Six Sigma training. Whether it be Black Belt or Green Belt, companies sometimes choose practitioners for the wrong reasons. Consider the following reasons for choosing staff to serve as LSS practitioners:

  1. Solid performer
  2. Good understanding of key business processes
  3. Plays well with others
  4. Good career path within the company

Each of these traits should be solid indicators of the expected performance of an individual in a continuous improvement role, right? Now consider this question: Does being good at a particular job mean being good as a leader of others performing that same job?

Selecting the right people to fill practitioner roles is critical to the long-term success of any Continuous Improvement Program. Consider the following true examples (names have been changed to protect the individuals).

Skillset

Joann was a brilliant, hard-charging employee at her company. She was great with numbers, adept at research, and loved data. Management chose her to be an initial member of the firm’s Lean Six Sigma team.

As a new LSS Black Belt she was assigned a project at a remote facility. Joann quickly imbedded herself into the process. She drilled employees for information, led brainstorming sessions, and pushed tools she’d learned. Once she got to the Improve Phase on her project, Joann force-fed employees new methods and drove results by whatever means necessary.

The improvement project was somewhat successful. Afterwards the local team had zero interest in further engagements. In fact, it took weeks for the next Black Belt to get the same team to engage in a follow-on project.

What happened? Where was the employee engagement? Where were the actions to create buy-in? Joann was successful in her former role where she worked alone, and gaining buy-in was not part of her job description. While adept at applying technical tools, she had yet to develop the soft skills needed to be an effective practitioner.

Managing Time

John is a leader where he works. An experienced supervisor, he works with a successful team loaded with people who know their jobs and who routinely complete challenging assignments. John is a major cog within his team and likes to make sure he knows everything that happens. He works hard to fully support his employees in every situation.

As a result of his performance, he is sent to participate in LSS Green Belt training. After all, he’s a high-performing worker who gets it done, and he puts in the hours to ensure his team succeeds.

Despite his great work ethic, John struggles through the Green Belt course. He frequently misses topics during class because of interruptions from work. As a result, he barely passes the course.

Once back at work, John can’t seem to get his project off the ground. Squeezing in team meetings is a major challenge. Over time, the normal day-to-day routine kicks in. Before he knows it, a whole year has passed and John fails to get certified. More importantly, he failed to deliver the results expected by his company. What happened? He was successful in his regular job. It stands to reason he’d be successful now, right?

Capability

Kyle is a respected leader in his company, with years of production experience and impressive results. He knows the equipment, processes, materials, and output requirements. His boss sends him to LSS Green Belt training to join his peers within the LSS Program.

Kyle starts the training, and all is going well until they get to the math and statistics modules. He is completely lost. As the statistics concepts pour in, Kyle finds himself drowning. Why is this happening? He is good with metrics at work. He does his own taxes for crying out loud! What is going on?

In each of these scenarios, there is an incomplete understanding of what it takes to become a successful LSS practitioner. Practitioners must have many personal attributes to be successful. They also must have the proper support system in place.

  • Joann had technical skills, but she lacked the people skills to develop the required buy-in. She didn’t know how to connect, to inspire.
  •  John possessed the work ethic required, but was unable to manage his time. He didn’t know how to prioritize his responsibilities to generate results.
  • Kyle didn’t have the basic math background to comprehend the concepts. What do you think this did to his confidence?

Before selecting candidates for Lean Six Sigma training, consider the following questions:

  1. Is the candidate able to connect with people?
  2. Can the candidate inspire people to change habits…to look for another way?
  3. Has the candidate ever served on a team? Led a team?
  4. Does the candidate know how to facilitate a meeting? Make a presentation?
  5. Is the candidate a ‘self starter’? Someone who likes improving things?
  6. Does the candidate know how to prioritize work duties?
  7. Does the candidate possess the ability to learn and apply new concepts?

It is critical to the long-term health of your continuous improvement program for the practitioners selected to possess the right combination of skills and character traits. Always remember: A company is making an investment in their employees, and should expect a return on that investment. Select properly, equip properly, and support properly.

If you want to win, avoid putting your stars in situations where they won’t shine.  Finally, always keep in mind staff chosen to serve as problem-solvers today should also be those who will be your business leaders of tomorrow.  


More about Mike Boyte:

ike is a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt with over 26 years of experience in manufacturing, from front-line production to director-level management. He has led continuous improvement systems as a deployment champion and has taught and coached Green Belt students from plants across the country. He has teamed with executive-level leaders in strategic plan development, deployment,  and employee engagement. Mike was a student and customer of TMAC for nearly two decades before joining the team in 2019.

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