Corporate learning serves the organization best when it ties in with company-wide goals and initiatives. In the 1980s, many major corporations started picking up on need to increase quality in manufacturing processes, culminating in Motorola’s introduction of the Six Sigma approach to driving quality. Since then, many corporations have applied Six Sigma methods, including Boeing and Xerox. Employees use the skills they learn through Six Sigma training to bring about an improvement in quality. Because of the complex methodology Six Sigma requires, learning and training organizations must become deeply involved when a company chooses to implement a Six Sigma approach.
Six Sigma is rigorous, data-driven program that drives continuous quality improvement, focusing on customers’ requirements. Six Sigma aims to eliminate errors and defects, thus bringing down the costs that are driven up by poor quality. Employees get involved in Six Sigma to different degrees, which require different amounts of training.
Xerox Global Services has won numerous quality awards since implementing the Six Sigma approach, including the Malcolm Baldridge Award for Quality for Xerox overall in 1989 and for the services category in 1997. Thomas J. Dolan, president of Xerox Global Services, emphasized the importance of educating the workforce on Six Sigma, and specifically, making sure that an elite group is trained to a high degree, as Black Belts.
“The difference (with Six Sigma) is that everybody is educated on the benefits, but you have a select group of people who are absolutely professionals,” said Dolan. “Their full-time job is to work this process to reduce the number of defects, to improve customer satisfaction. The drill-down and the expertise is confined to a specific group of people, and that’s what they do for that two- to three-year period of time.”
Xerox had always had a tradition of quality in its products and services and placed a heavy emphasis on customer satisfaction and loyalty, said Dolan. He explained that when Xerox began to realize that it needed a change to get its people reenergized on total quality improvement, it turned to the George Group to work on Lean Six Sigma deployment. “They came to us and provided a significant amount of education,” said Dolan. “It was really a combination of the Lean process and the Six Sigma process.”
Because not everyone can be brought on board at once, Dolan said, it is important to first get company leaders on board so that they can understand the value of educating the workforce on Six Sigma and the benefits that will result.
“Once you do that top-level education, it can begin to trickle down,” said Dolan. “As an example, I spent three days in Lean Six Sigma, doing training. Then I came back and led the charge. And it cascades down through the organization. Everybody in management knows the approach that we’ll use, and they know what kind of benefits we’re looking for.”
Rajiv Agarwala, Lean Six Sigma deployment manager for Xerox Global Services, is a Black Belt who has spent several years applying Six Sigma processes in a manufacturing environment, where Six Sigma really took off. Agarwala stressed the importance of having trained Black Belts at Xerox.
“I think what Xerox has is great technology, but what Lean Six Sigma can do is help excel in the process,” he explained. “In order to do that, you can’t just go through that three-day training, you need to be doing this all the time.”
Agarwala explained that Xerox does this by selecting candidates to become full-time Black Belts. These candidates go through a five-week training program and work closely with a mentor, who is also a Black Belt. “In searching for black belt candidates, we’re really looking for people on the high-potential list,” said Agarwala. “And after the Black Belt training, they have the capability to use this in the future as well.”
Dolan explained that even though the initial goal is to have a select group trained as black belts, over time, a greater and greater percentage of the company’s workforce will possess that expertise, further increasing the company’s focus on quality.
“In the end, this is all about process improvement,” said Dolan. “And this process improvement has an impact on our customer and employee satisfaction.”
To find out more about how learning leaders are working to educate their organizations on Six Sigma, read “Six Sigma: Quality Performance” by Maryann G. Billington and Peter J. Billington, in the July 2003 issue of Chief Learning Officer magazine or online at https://www.clomedia.com/content/templates/clo_feature.asp?articleid=207&zoneid=29.
You can also read “Next-Generation Six Sigma,” online at https://www.clomedia.com/content/templates/clo_inpractice.asp?articleid=210&zoneid=83, written by Fred Harburg, chief learning officer of Motorola, to find out more about how Six Sigma is evolving to fit organizations’ changing needs.
Emily Hollis is associate editor for Chief Learning Officer Magazine. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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