Listen, enrich, optimize Featured

7:01pm EDT February 29, 2012
Subir Chowdhury Subir Chowdhury

Subir Chowdhury has gained a reputation as one of the world’s foremost experts on Six Sigma, the business management process pioneered by Motorola in the 1980s, which is aimed at promoting operational efficiency and minimizing errors. In the years he has spent traveling the world coaching companies on the principles of Six Sigma, he has discovered a need for a concept that is centered on the basics of Six Sigma, but can be adopted by virtually any business.

With that in mind, Chowdhury wrote “The Power of LEO — The Revolutionary Process For Achieving Extraordinary Results,” published by McGraw-Hill earlier this year.

Smart Business spoke with Chowdhury about the concept of LEO and why it matters in the business world.

Can you briefly explain the concept of LEO as explained in the book?

When I talk about it, it’s ‘listen, enrich, optimize.’ The ‘listen’ portion is about seeking input from all the stakeholders in the organization, from suppliers to employees to customers. If you think about what someone like Steve Jobs did, he understood what the consumer wants. If the consumer is a rich guy or a poor person, it doesn’t matter. He truly tried to understand their voice, and when I talk about listen, much of the time senior leadership doesn't take the time to listen. Not just with external customers, I'm also talking about internal customers.

The second thing I talk about is enrich. The way I explain enrich is in a very simplistic form. Any single day, you, myself, anybody, we go to the mirror and look at ourselves, and how many of us asks ourselves what we can do better? That mindset is what I call a continuous improvement mindset. Having that mindset is so critical as to how you can enrich anything you are doing. How you can enrich communities, how you can enrich your family life, your work life, or enrich your customers. It’s having that mindset of enriching. So when you have that mindset, you create new ideas for improvement and new solutions to problems using simple techniques. For example, when you go to the hospital setting, all the nurses, all the physicians, if they don’t have that mindset of enriching, it will lead to medical errors. Because then, people are just going there for the sake of the job. They don’t have the mindset of enrichment.

The third thing is optimize. That is where you come up with the best solution and correct all shortcomings in it. Looking at the example of the iPhone, Steve Jobs realized that the customers may only have the product for two or three years but within those two to three years, he wanted to ensure that customers would have a great experience. With a couple of years, the new versions of products would come out, though within that several year window, he wanted to optimize the customer experience.

What drove you to write this book?

I had been invited in by a lot of companies, after five or six years of applying Six Sigma around the world, and getting the question of why they’re not getting results from Six Sigma.

They invited me because I’m one of the leading authorities on Six Sigma, so when I visited some of these companies, I posed some questions to CEO-level people about what set of tools within Six Sigma they have gained education. They have maybe learned about 20 or 30 percent of the tools. So they go through the training but do not have the overall education.

That was the time when it kind of hit me that every organization is different. Every organization has different requirements. You are teaching the tools that they don’t have a direct education for. People were gravitating to Six Sigma because it was popular without really understanding the subject matter, without understanding the tools and how they are applied. I tried to come up with something centered on what the customer really needs, what their needs are and how they fit into the culture. Every organization has different culture.

I took all the Six Sigma tools and put them in a big office, along with all the different tools of other management strategies. I was trying to find out what is fundamental for all those tools? What it boiled down to was basically three things: listen, enrich and optimize. Everything basically comes back to those three things.

How to reach: Subir Chowdhury,