Considine wanted his 4,000-plus employees to have a chance to contribute to the Lean Six Sigma principles, so he knew he needed a support system that would allow employees to share ideas and have access to resources to turn them into reality. So Akron Children’s formed the Center for Operations Excellence. It’s staffed with the seven people the hospital recognized as having an influence on their colleagues. They’re now Lean Six Sigma trained and serve as project leaders.
Considine says an entire center dedicated to implementing strategy isn’t necessary. You might take a different approach based on how you internally structure resources and your company culture. Truly, how to support Lean Six Sigma activity could become a project of its own.
No matter how you structure your support, there is one thing to remember.
“The key is you want to empower the people,” Considine says. “You don’t want to have so much structure there that it’s bureaucratic. Keep it simple.
“The thing is you want the people on the front line to say, ‘Hey I got this idea. I do this job every day and I think I can make this job, these processes, a little simpler, more efficient.’”
Basically you want to make the process easy for employees to recommend ideas, and you want them to feel comfortable that they can suggest those ideas. Remember, this is about empowering them. You want your system to be one where they reach out to you.
At Akron Children’s, projects are broken into two categories: A3 and Kaizen, with the latter being more cross-departmentally focused. Employees interested in finding efficiency fill out a sheet suggesting their idea, and then they’re contacted by the Center for Operations Excellence who will assign the employee a coach and a project leader to walk that person through the steps. More than 500 employees have completed an eight-week, A3 project. And there’s currently a waiting list.
That momentum is not going to happen overnight. You’re not going to come in the next day with a list full of ideas.
“The reason I think we’re at that level now is people know we’re serious about this,” Considine says. “People have seen the reward that others that have done this have gained in terms of personal satisfaction, and they want to be part of it. You have to build that.”
Considine recommends picking a couple early projects that you know will see good results. Is there a process within your organization you know you can make more efficient by cutting steps? At the same time, identify and involve the more innovative people in your company. As you ramp up the important communication process, you will have a win-win scenario and a personal story to inspire employees and build energy.
Communication is critical in every aspect of every organization, but it becomes especially important as you’re trying to gain and maintain energy around new processes. But just because you’ve outlined your idea, you’ve set expectations, you’ve given employees resources, doesn’t mean communication stops. Even when the idea is finally embedded in your culture, it’s still important to share what has been accomplished throughout the organization.
Akron Children’s maintains constant conversation around Lean Six Sigma through monthly and weekly employee publications, departmental meetings and CEO round tables.
At Considine’s monthly leadership meetings, a story is shared with his executives about a Lean Six Sigma initiative and they’re asked to repeat it to their staff.
“If you’re in a department that starts sharing about what another department is doing with this, you start thinking, ‘Oh, there’s something that we can do,’” he says.
You need to use multiple communication vehicles to get your message out. But once again, it’s how you craft your message that is important, especially when you have the attention of a small group.
“What we try to do when we use that vehicle is instead of talking about Lean Six Sigma as a program, we put a face on it,” Considine says. “We talk about a Lean Six Sigma project that one of the people these people know has done. Communicating what it is is endless; you have to keep doing that, and you have to keep celebrating what you do.”