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3 Common Pitfalls of Lean Six Sigma Belts & 5 Solutions to Turn Them Around

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The Lean Six Sigma Certification points out that the 50,000 professionals its trained alone have helped achieve more than $500 million in savings through waste reduction efforts. Who wouldn’t be excited about jumping onboard? You can’t blame a company for wanting to put all the tools in place at once and wait to reap the benefits.

However, companies focused on completing green belt projects, and rewarding those employees who undertake them, may be missing out on something bigger: an improvement culture.

As Dan Markovitz, president of Markovitz Consulting and a faculty member at the Lean Enterprise Institute, recently put it, companies that focus on green belt projects over daily kaizen are like dieters focused on cutting calories rather than creating a healthier lifestyle. It’s just not sustainable long-term.

The pitfalls

Markovitz sees a few common pitfalls with corporate Six Sigma programs:

  1. Companies target acquiring colored belts over developing a culture where a kaizen mindset is part of the corporate DNA.
  2. Tying performance reviews to achieving belts may override your peoples’ intrinsic motivation to learn new skills.
  3. Organizations may get lost in the advanced tools that support Six Sigma rather than giving employees insight on how to use the 7 basic quality tools and the freedom to apply them.

If this sounds like your company, don’t despair. You can easily reorient your approach from focusing on the destination (acquiring the next belt) to the journey (daily improvement).

The path to improvement

Consider Markovitz’s tips for emphasizing continuous improvement foremost:

  1. Set a sustainable pace for improvement. Maybe your employees are all participating in a green belt project. But is it one and done? Set an expectation—say participation in one project a month—to ensure that improvement remains an ongoing focus.
  2. Focus on the basics. Help employees understand the 7 basic quality tools and support them in applying those to operational improvements. Keeping goals relatable—such as encouraging people to “fix what bugs them”—companies are more likely to see regular results from improvement programs.
  3. Provide ongoing training.  Consider pairing employees who want to learn more with experienced coaches. Over time, this can help them master new tools and guide more projects.
  4. Make participation the reward. Publicly celebrating completed projects not only builds a little friendly competition but helps employees feel good about their project participation. With that feeling in mind, who wouldn’t want to start working toward the next improvement?

With these initiatives in place, you may find your your employees are as excited about improvement projects as you are. When your employees take the initiative to improve, you really will start reaping big benefits.

For more insight on developing an improvement program that supports employee participation, listen to Rever’s recent podcast with Markovitz on The Lean Frontline.


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