Barriers for Six Sigma Black Belt to be Good Internal Consultants

Certified Six Sigma Black belt

This article is part of series on “How Six Sigma Black Belts Can Deliver Choku-Zuki* as Internal Consultants”?”

The barriers for Six Sigma Black Belts to be good internal consultants are as follows:

Analyst, not a Trusted Advisor – The first and foremost barrier for Black Belts to be seen as internal consultant is to do with their positioning. Black Belts come with ample analytical skills that they are naturally proud of. While it’s great to be analytical, unfortunately business leaders see Black Belts as their analysts. There are Black Belts who are sick of preparing dashboards & PPTs forever. Some others have secured a solitary and convenient position in the org structure as a ‘Six Sigma Specialist’ and are happy when left undisturbed. Both these situations are no different. Black Belts will have to position themselves as Advisors, ‘Trusted’ Advisors to business leaders. What does it take become a trusted advisor?

Answer this question and you will know for yourself – Who would you go for advice and why do you choose him/her?

Love-Hate relationship, not Win-Win – Black Belts never see their business leaders as clients. In fact they see them as seniors, peers or competitors. They see current business problems as symptoms/results of poor management, lack of structured thinking and execution of business teams and that they are being involved to clear all this mess. As a result, they end up creating a love-hate relationship rather than a win-win relationship. Most of us have a love-hate relationship with our drivers, so we know what is it worth?

On the contrary, an external consultant would craft a win-win relationship with his client, because his business thrives on referrals. He will be focused on gathering following insights about the client’s business:

  • What is the client’s current situation? What problems do they currently face, what are their causes, and their effects?
  • What does the desired outcome of this project/engagement look like?
  • What would the customer be prepared to spend to achieve the outcome?
  • How will client measure or value the benefits of my services?
  • What might capture their attention?
  • What concerns might they have about the utility of my service?
  • What bad experiences might they have had dealing with me in the past?
  • When Black Belts seek out answers for these questions, their contribution to business will be disproportionately higher.

Strong Six Sigma Mindsets – Black Belts often take pride in boosting their process orientation and analytical knowledge. This quickly takes shape as complacency and shows up in their mindset – ‘Use the tools (rightly) and you will get the results’! But this mindset is a deterrent for adoption of Six Sigma and the acceptance of Black Belts as internal consultant. A good consultant (internal or external) would walk you to the results rather than scare you of the difficult path. I often correlate the role of a black belt to that of a nurse who pokes a 2 inch needle into a child’s flesh amidst of her smile & sweet talk!

So in a nutshell, strong Six Sigma mindset is a good trait for Black Belts, but don’t enforce or expect others from business to reciprocate or receive it in the same spirit. That’s why Black Belts should build good vocabulary through practice. It would be useful to write down and look up words that one do or doesn’t want to use. Strive for “low-mid” level Six Sigma vocabulary that others wouldn’t get intimidated, but rather understand easily and appreciate.

Lack of Sensitivity – Many times, business leaders land up in unreasonable situations which require disproportionate effort and priority. Conventional approaches of running projects, application of tools, waiting for data collection to be complete, plotting Minitab graphs, etc. might not viable. Business leaders expect Black Belts to be sensitive to such situations, brainstorm, participate and support them to sail through the tides. However, many Black Belts prefer to back off and insulate themselves as it beyond their role. This is very common when Black Belts don’t have a direct line of reporting to business leaders. On the other hand, a seasoned external consultant would quickly adapt to such situations because most often people reach out to external consultants only when they run out of options! So it’s not only a matter of survival for the business leader, but also for the external consultant.

Slave of Tools – Most Black Belts are slave of their tool kit. While they genuinely make an effort to apply the tools and techniques of Six Sigma, it quite often appears that they can’t think beyond this. Often real business problems require simple and unique approaches and not complex DMAIC tools. For example, one of my clients, asked their internal Black Belt to assess the as-is process of different business verticals so that they can standardize & automate them easily. He ended up using DMAIC approach. He was talking of root causes, hypothesis testing and improvement plans. As a result, he delayed the overall project. The business leader who assigned this project is no more his promoter, but a detractor!

Not looking beyond Projects – Image yourself as a business leader who hires an external top class process consultant for an improvement project. During the course of the project, you invite him to brainstorm on some open business issues which are beyond the scope of the current project. If the consultant positions every issue as a potential project, would you like it? I wouldn’t!

Improvement projects are one small aspect of doing business. There are several other scenarios such as planning/study, program management, qualitative problems, benchmarking exercise, software system implementation, etc. which don’t necessarily require Six Sigma tools. But a Black Belt’s experience and overall orientation can lead to an invaluable contribution that business leaders appreciate, provided Black Belts think beyond ‘Projects’.

“Ideal” solutions not really practical – Ideal solutions deliver extraordinary results, but what seems as best solution to a Black Belt is quite often impractical to a business leader. Whether it’s a perception or fact, the ownership lies with the Black Belt to understand the business, culture & environment and adapt the ‘ideal’ solution to make it practical. No external consultant would be entertained or paid, if she offers impractical solutions. Internal Black Belts are that way better off, they may be seen as impractical and ignored, but not sacked.

QNI focus – It’s certainly important to focus on Quality Net Income. But there are many projects that delivered desired QNI but hardly changed anything on ground. QNI is a healthy quantitative measure of Six Sigma projects but ultimately operational/business measures must improve. No business leader looks up to a Black Belt to deliver $$. They see black belts as change agents who are free from daily mundane responsibilities to bring about process and cultural change. Ultimately such a change will show up in operational/business measures. An offshoot of such a change can be QNI, but that’s certainly not the objective.

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