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Does Six Sigma Need to Have the Support of Upper Management?

The short answer is, “Yes!”

The longer answer is, “Yes, and here’s why.”

Have you ever had the unfortunate experience of working where management does not fully realize or understand the value of investing the extra time and effort required for quality improvement? Such an experience is certainly not uncommon. You really know the value of upper management support if you are in a corporate climate that doesn’t support process improvement from the top on down.

Upper management support for Six Sigma is critical in two areas. First, the power and scope of Six Sigma demands a significant commitment from the organization. This requires support from management to transcend departmental barriers. Second, any type of change in an organization will meet some resistance, either intentional or just by virtue of inertia. When upper management is behind that change, resistance can be countered and overcome.

You can’t take on Six Sigma with a lackadaisical attitude. You can’t implement it piecemeal. Six Sigma is not for dilettantes. If you’re in, you’re in deep, and you’re in for the long haul. Of course, for real and lasting process improvement, that is how it should be. Without a 100% management commitment to the Six Sigma program, Six Sigma turns into just another “management program.”

There will always be resistance to changes brought into an organization, and change requires continuous support, encouragement, and monitoring from top management to overcome that resistance. There are plenty of ways for projects to fail, and it is always convenient to blame the new tool. If you look hard enough though, if Six Sigma fails, the failure is clearly the fault of management. If management truly has their eye on the customer and is intent on providing quality products and services, then Six Sigma has a good choice for keeping everyone focused.

Everyone can agree that continuous process improvement is worthwhile, but obtaining the dedication of time and money to do it is often difficult. The support of upper management is an absolute requirement for quality. The organization’s leaders set the agenda, make the rules, and authorize the resources. Without management’s genuine commitment, your company’s Six Sigma effort will find it difficult, if not impossible, to achieve lasting improvement. Management buy-in is necessary but not sufficient. Leaders must literally lead the way and inspire people to engage and play their role.

When your senior management leaders are onboard, they can oversee the implementation of the Six Sigma effort. They can respond appropriately both to successes and to roadblocks. Six Sigma cannot be the silver bullet alone; it has to have complete support and commitment from all levels of the organization. There are many other quality improvement methodologies that have the capability to help organizations. One of the crucial differences between them and Six Sigma is that Six Sigma recognizes the requirement for complete organizational support and dedication.

Thus, Six Sigma is ideal for projects that require cross-functional groups, and the solution is not apparent up front. Upper management needs to understand that implementation of Six Sigma needs to be more widespread in an organization than isolated projects. Management also plays a crucial role in focusing Six Sigma toward broad application. Management trained in the essentials of the Six Sigma methodology select the projects that are aligned with business goals. Then, these managers must select and mentor Six Sigma project leaders called “Belts.” Belts in turn are mentors to others who share their skills and seek to continually improve themselves, those around them, and the organization as a whole. The Six Sigma mentoring concept and the insistence on senior management buy-in are excellent ways of focusing issues related to the implementation of Six Sigma throughout the organization. When upper management holds up Six Sigma as the method by which an organization defines and implements change throughout its structure, significant and lasting change ensues.

Peter Peterka is President of For additional information on Six Sigma Champion or other Six Sigma Certification project programs contact Peter Peterka.

Author: Peter Peterka Google

Published 09/1/2008 offers both Live Virtual classes as well as Online Self-Paced training. Most option includes access to the same great Master Black Belt instructors that teach our World Class in-person sessions. Sign-up today!

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