A key precursor to beginning a lean six sigma program is accurately determining the current state of your organization and its readiness for a significant philosophical change. Senior leadership plays a key role in determining the success of lean six sigma adoption. Consider the following questions:
A) Does senior leadership understand LSS?
B) Is senior leadership committed to LSS philosophies and practices?
C) Does the organization have an established practice of open communication and strong alignment between leadership layers regarding organizational goals and priorities?
D) Does the organization have sufficient resources available to provide needed support and nurturing of a beginning LSS program?
If you cannot answer yes to each of these questions, you should consider adopting lean six sigma tools only, and delay any wholesale adoption of an organization-wide program. Failure to have a strong platform in place before beginning will result in not only a likely failure of the program, but also lead to decreased confidence and increased cynicism of future change initiatives.
First, senior leadership must understand lean six sigma: what it is and what it isn’t, and what it does and what it won’t do. While it is not necessary for leaders to understand the intricacies of LSS, they must be able to confidently articulate LSS philosophy and intelligibly describe tools, processes and goals. Many organizations that fail to adopt lean six sigma effectively do so when leadership mistakenly believes LSS will do or be something that it isn’t. While some improvements will yield immediate results, full adoption takes more than a year, and improvement plateaus (or even dips) should be expected during this time.
Long-term care organizations, in particular, need to be cautious about alignment throughout the organizational structure, as there frequently are significant disconnects between line staff, front-line supervisors and executives. Third-party facilitated staff surveys and focus groups to identify communication patterns and levels of trust are highly recommended. (For an excellent resource on psychological safety in healthcare organizations, check out Team Effectiveness In Complex Organizations: Cross-Disciplinary Perspectives and Approaches.)
Merely understanding LSS and providing tacit support is not enough for a successful adoption: senior leadership must be involved. It’s important to structure this involvement properly, however, striking a balance between controlling too little and too much. Organizational practices must be examined for alignment with LSS philosophy, as line staff typically are keen observers of organizational doublethink—particularly if they have experienced a history of undiagnosed failed initiatives. Policies and procedures, for example, need to be rethought in terms of alignment with actual practice and employee-centeredness.
Staff must also have sufficient time to participate in improvement projects. While organizations are oftentimes loath to increase staffing hours, it simply is impossible to adopt an LSS program without dedicating time to learn, practice, and improve.
If the organization doesn’t have a trained LSS staff member, a trained consultant should be retained for three to six months during adoption and periodically over the first year until internal staff champions are trained. Experience with change process and LSS is critical to respond effectively to challenges and obstacles that are sure to occur.
If the above conditions aren’t met, the organization can still use Lean Six Sigma tools to assist with performance improvement projects. Indeed, most LSS tools can offer strong benefits even without total adoption (a 5S event is an easy start). Users should be cautious, however, about long-term sustainability of results, as organizations that don’t adopt LSS as an organizational philosophy will find inertia creeps in and reduces gains over time.