Training and Tools: Not the way to Sustained Improvement

Friday, March 6, 2009 by Tripp Babbitt
This is a bitter pill to swallow, especially for someone like myself that has done tools training for most of my career.  At first, in Deming fashion I attempted to balance the concepts and tools, but customers demanded fast results and management wanted change as long as they didn’t have to change.  Unfortunately, as time went by I was swept up like most in my field in to Six Sigma, "Lean" or Lean Six Sigma.  Don’t get me wrong the tools and training made me money and did get improvements, but thinking really didn’t change and business improvement wasn’t what it should have been.  Organizational change management became something for the front-line done through projects, training and tools while management "supported" it with words, but not action.  This method leads to unsustainable change, because every time a crisis would come up the improvement would not endure.  Management’s focus on financial targets would ultimately lead to set backs and the gains would have to be sacrificed for short-term thinking.

In Six Sigma, I was fortunately taught by people with Deming backgrounds in getting my Black Belt (BB)and Master Black Belt (MBB), but as I saw how Six Sigma was used in organizations it became clear that projects were the way to improvement.  Constantly finding a project with projected cost savings played right into the command and control mentality of management.  The focus was on business cost reduction.  Management wouldn’t have to get their hands "dirty" as they could sponsor projects and have BBs and MBBs run the projects fully loaded with statistical tools.  Personally, I found this structure elitist as only BBs and MBBs could run the projects.  Regardless, no change in thinking by management was required . . . just support.

I have run into many situations over the years where executives wanted the improvement, but didn’t want to talk about why performance appraisals, financial targets, work standards, etc. were making their companies worse.  One organization insisted I was "disrespecting" their style of management (I’d been working with the company for two years) and I came to realize that (to some degree) I really was . . . the only difference now is I own it.  I can have an honest conversation about command and control vs. systems thinking.  Command and control thinkers can learn better methods by understanding the work and adopting a system thinking approach, but they need to be open to changing their thinking . . . and that has to be born from intrinsic curiosity.

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