Engaging the Other 95%

In most organizations deploying Six Sigma or a continuous improvement effort like Six Sigma (some full-time resources and many other employees who are expected to engage in continuous improvement efforts on-the job), there are typically incentives, metrics, training programs, and other methods and tactics employed to generate broad-based employee involvement and engagement in Six Sigma or its local equivalent.

These efforts often manifest themselves in individual and/or work-team based efforts, various in-class, on-line and on-the-job training and coaching approaches, as well as an array of vehicles to engage frontline staff through kaizen groups, work teams and the like.

Depending on how one defines success, these efforts have varying degrees of effectiveness. For example, one can focus on hard savings from process improvement (such as waste reduction or uptime improvement). Another objective and definition of success might derive from employee surveys wherein staff are asked to rate their level of engagement with the continuous improvement initiative. Yet another measure is a subjective sense that the culture of “how we do thing around here” has changed.

Determining the genuine and long-lasting successes, however measured, from shorter-term and somewhat superficial “wins” is a difficult undertaking. Six Sigma and other Performance Improvement Conferences are full of success stories. So many, in fact, that it begs credulity since if all the success stories were indeed true, the GDPs of the U.S., Canadian and European economies represented should be much higher!

But putting aside for the moment the extent to which organizations have truly engaged “the other 95%” of employees, the vast majority of employees who are not hard-core advocates of continuous improvement nor are one of the few full-time Black Belts or continuous improvement professionals, is an important issue of return on investment and of untapped potential.

One question that improvement professionals might wish to ponder is this:

To what extent does engaging the other 95% require an engagement in terms of their personal lives as opposed to their work lives?

Work as a job vs work as a fulfiller

In my experience in various organizations deploying different types of improvement methods and tools, I am struck by the difference between the people for whom their work is more than a job but a vocation, a calling, an activity that is a major aspect of what they enjoy in life (their work is almost their hobby as well) compared to people whose work, while important to them in terms of income and social status, is not the primary representation of their true passions which lie outside of work.

I make this observation because I hypothesize that for those individuals whose work is a major part of what they are passionate about in life, gaining their engagement in continuous improvement efforts through their work life is quite a sensible tactic (it still may not be easy) whereas for those people who primary passions and interests are outside of their work, the gateway to their engagement, the more effective way to turn the light bulb on as it were, is through their personal life. Or to put it differently, teaching a person the importance and relevance of DMAIC might take on a different nature if the context is something relevant in their personal life – their health, their financial future, their children’s education and prospects in life.

Furthermore, in having engaged that person in their home life, the transition to engaging those same skills on the job might be easier. If, furthermore, one is to posit that it is the majority of workers who “punch the clock”, whose private lives are much more fulfilling than anything going on between 9:00 to 5:00 (or 7:00 to 6:00 it seems these days), then an organization wanting to have all of its employees applying continuous improvement methods, tools and philosophies on the job, might wish to consider showing the majority of its staff the how, why and benefit of these tools in their personal lives as the gateway to then pulling those skills onto the work site. Engagement in improvement, therefore, for many people might begin at home, rather than on the job, but benefit both.

I think this is a proposition professionals engaged in organizational improvement should consider. For example, the U.S. self-improvement industry represents over $10 billion sales. This includes infomercials, mail order catalogs, motivational speaker seminars, holistic institutes, self-improvement books & audiotapes, and personal coaching. By and large these products and services are aimed at and sold to individuals looking for something to help them get ahead, lose weight or engage in other types of improvement. That same person who can sit unengaged in a corporate training session might also be the same person shelling out a few hundred dollars to attend a Tony Robbins event that is aimed at their personal life.

In summary, for discussion and examination is the proposition that for some people a change in mindset at work first requires a change in mindset at home.