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Commitment Mechanisms

Common laments about recent Six Sigma implementations gone awry include:

  • “The people in the department just weren’t committed to sustaining the improvement gains that the Black Belt led them to.”
  • “There was no ownership of the results and commitment to do the best job they could. People were just standing around waiting to be told what to do.”
  • “The managers and front-line workers in that division just never seemed to commit to the concept of continuous improvement. They viewed continuous improvement as an added task to their daily responsibilities, not part of their daily responsibilities.”
  • “In our Chicago facility the Black Belts were simply unable to get people to commit to learning improvement tools and trying to improve their work every day. If we wanted people to improve their processes, we needed to stand over them and watch them every minute—people expressed no internal desire to execute at the highest level possible or to improve.
  • LSS/HPO seeks to create conditions for workforce commitment in a structured way. In LSS/HPO implementations there are a variety of specific commitment mechanisms to get people enrolled in the process, and get them enthusiastically executing and improving on a daily basis. Three of the most powerful commitment mechanisms are:

Behavioral norms
Early in the LSS/HPO transformation process, top leaders (and sometimes more than top leaders) establish a set of unique, tailored behavioral norms that drive the organization to an extreme focus on execution, high levels of personal responsibility, and intrinsic motivation to continuously improve. These norms—clearly articulated, monitored, and reinforced through management actions—form the backdrop for how individuals perceive and react. They form, in essence, “choice principles” for how to behave which encourage and nurture commitment.

Peer support and challenges
With teams that set their own goals and then are held collectively accountable for achieving them, peer pressure plays an enormous role in generating and sustaining commitment. If a team member falls behind in her work, then suddenly the other eight or so members of the team become an instant support mechanism and help the person “dig out” or collect information that she can use to execute her tasks more quickly. This is done with the full knowledge that when other team members find themselves in a similar situation, the same sort of “pitch in and help” attitude will kick in so that the team can meet its collective goals and get rewarded.

If a team member intentionally slacks off, then suddenly he finds himself surrounded by eight people confronting his behavior. This peer pressure, curiously enough, helps turn around behavior even faster than if the person’s boss in the old work environment were to get involved. If the behavior is not turned around quickly within the team, then other layers of the organization become involved, and quite possibly the slacker will be relocated within the organization—or outside of it.

Large-Group Interventions
Large Group Interventions (LGIs) are methods for engaging groups of people to collectively explore current reality, conduct a meaningful dialogue about a situation, and co-develop a path forward based on public conversations in which members typically commit to one or more actions. They are called “Large Group Interventions” because they typically involve more than 20 people—a number that is far too high for traditional rules of meeting management. LGIs help create commitment because they get people logically and emotionally invested in the future of the organization. Since people tend to own what they help create, LGIs are a great way of distributing responsibility for the future success of the organization. The topic of LGIs could fill several books, (see The Change Handbook (Holman & Devane, Berrett-Koehler, 1999) and Large-Group Interventions (Bunker & Alban, Jossey-Bass, 1996), but below are a few key points:

  • LGIs can be sorted into several categories:

    – Planning (examples would include the methods called “Search Conference” and “Future Search,” which could be used to set the direction for the LSS/HPO transformation or a new business strategy).

    – Structuring (examples would include the methods called “Participative Design” and “Fast Cycle Full Participation,” which could be used to structure the LSS/HPO organization into a combination of high-performing teams and fewer layers of management).

    – General purpose (examples would include a method called “Dialogue” that uses full and frank conversations to uncover deep-rooted assumptions, explore different points of view, and reach a deeper understanding of complex problems).

  • LGIs can run from two hours to three days, depending on purpose and participant interaction requirements. Each LGI has a distinctive “design backbone” consisting of principles for success with the intervention as well as an agenda that can be tailored slightly to accommodate local organization needs. The combined principles for design and conduct of the LGI combines with the LGI’s agenda to help large groups of people become productive very quickly, and to help the facilitator manage the group dynamics and quickly generate high quality outputs.
  • LGIs are extremely important elements in an LSS/HPO transformation. They serve three purposes. First, they produce valuable work products for the transformation, such as strategic plans and organizational redesigns based on the diverse views represented and open conversations conducted. Second, they accelerate the use of open and honest conversations, which are necessary for sustained high performance. Third, they fuel the important “want to” component of the Energizing Core in the Performance Framework.
  • Specific uses of LGIs in an LSS/HPO and the timing of their use can be found in Integrating Lean Six Sigma and High-Performance Organizations (Jossey-Bass/Pfeiffer, 2003).