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Don't be fooled by...
April, 2012

I often assist organizations fill Lean Six Sigma positions. This means I spend time with Executive Recruiters, both internal and external to organizations. I find the variety of job descriptions fascinating, despite the fact that most are essentially all looking for the same person. Of course, level of experience (2 years, 5-10 years, 15+years) and leadership ability are factors. But in a practical sense, there is very little difference in what hiring managers are looking for.

In all my experience, I find one aspect of job descriptions particularly telling; Process- vs. Results-orientation. This tells me a lot about where an organization is in their Lean Six Sigma journey.

Bill Kluck
The Northwest Lean Networks
Senior managers (and other leaders) may tell you they want someone who is RESULTS-oriented. Others will say they want someone who is PROCESS-oriented. Still others will indicate they are looking for someone who is both Process- and Results-oriented. Let's look at these statements one at a time.

What does it mean to be 'results-oriented'? It means we want someone who can get the job done. We want someone who can identify a goal, and charge through to it's conclusion. In the Lean Six Sigma game, this almost always is in terms of some sort of savings or cost goal. We need cost reductions, and we want someone who can assure us they will hit the targets provided.

On the surface, this sounds reasonable. We are paying for this person, we deserve to see a benefit from their work. And these positions generally pay quite well, so we expect substantial benefits. We expect this person to work hard, long, fast, and smart, in order to get the benefits we need. And therein, in my opinion, lies the challenge in asking for someone who is results-oriented.

Our systems are designed to get the smartest, most experienced person the compensation package will allow. And we tend to get very smart, experienced people. And we throw them into the deep end of the pool (in the Lean Six Sigma sense), and challenge them to find large opportunities which will really improve our bottom line. And we find people who will absolutely do this. So what is the problem here? Well, if you look on the surface, you won't see any issues at all. But if you probe deeper, you'll find something very interesting.

Smart people, who are results-oriented, quickly discover the 'holes' in our systems. They have been incentivized for years to find and exploit them. These holes are usually missing or broken processes, at all levels. So once these processes have been uncovered, it should be relatively easy to fix them, and show improvement, right? Not so fast! Often, is is quicker to just drive toward some other solution (fix the symptom, rather than the process problem). The challenge with actually fixing processes is that it takes time to validate them (especially for processes that cycle monthly, quarterly, or annually). And the smart people we hire know that we often don't have that kind of time. So we patch the system, save some cash, and get a pat on the back. Do this for a couple of years, get your next promotion, and move on.

Now there are those of you who will scoff this as mere theory, but I have evidence to back it up. And this evidence is likely right outside your office door. Think of all the 'issues' that continue to raise their ugly head. Those problems that your teams have 'solved', but they keep coming back to bite you. We see and feel them every day. They are often a source of great angst. And we always put smart people on them, and in the short-term, we get the results we expect. Until next time....

For many leaders, the answer to the above dilemma is to change our focus. Let's find those that are both process- AND results oriented. This surely will solve the problem, while giving us the results we surely need. Well, let's explore this for a moment.

Our talent acquisition systems haven't changed, so we're still going to get those smart people, albeit those who can focus on process while still obtaining results. And we will find them. But we still have one lingering challenge that is hard to overcome - when a process- AND results-oriented person is up against the wall (and we all are, at some point), they KNOW that is the result that is important. That's what will get the attaboys, the incentive, the bonus, the promotion. Not that they don't want to use the process to drive the results, but it is definitely the harder path. There are people who will resist you all the way, and that adds time to any project. And it is this 'time factor' that will force the return to RESULTS as the final measure of success.

So again, who really cares? We got the result, right? 2 years from now, even if we have to solve that problem again, we're in a different environment, a different fiscal year. We'll find the money to solve this problem again, if need be. But that's really just short-term thinking, isn't it? Now let's look at this from a different perspective, from a purely 'process-oriented' perspective.

So who are these 'process-oriented' people? Are they people who don't have to be responsible for results? Doesn't that just make them internal consultants? Let's look at these in more detail.

Companies are made up of people, processes, and physical assets. People use the physical assets, combined with processes, in order to transform raw materials into items of value for our customers (go ahead, look it up!). As said before, many of our challenges are around broken or missing processes. (We also have challenges with people and physical assets, but since we're talking about processes, I'm going to stay on topic...) Companies are successful, in the short-term, by creating value for their customers. This is generally measured on various periodic bases (hourly, daily, ..., all the way to annually). We 'win' by adding more value than cost, and it shows on our bottom line. But for the long-term, we win by growing our systems, continually improving by growing the top line, year over year, while also winning the constant battles between cost and value.

So much for theory. Let's admit that we have broken processes. Let's also admit that we need 'Process Improvement Specialists' to help us fix these processes. But let's also admit that it is possible, let's say QUITE possible, that our measurement systems might be part of these broken processes. Perhaps we should be incentivizing our Lean Six Sigma team members on how well they 'process improvement', rather than on results.

But I know what you're thinking: Aren't 'results' how we measure our processes? I submit that the answer to this question is usually NO. Results can indicate the 'effectiveness' of a process, but our 'smart people' prove to us time and time again that you don't have to follow the process to get results. Process metrics and 'key performance indicators' (KPIs) are completely different, and quite unrelated. In 'process metrics', I include items such as 'cycle time', 'first pass quality', and 'adherence to the process' (there are many others). Process metrics measure the process, while KPIs measure and report results. While we may assume these are connected; in many cases, they are not.

Using results to measure the effectiveness of people is like using your paycheck to evaluate the effectiveness of your work week. In reality, your paycheck more likely reflects a few decisions made at the time of job transition, not the planning and effort you put into this weeks work. We need to find ways to ensure we're measuring the right things, those elements which will enhance our processes, and LEAD TO better results.

A great example is how many companies determine their annual bonuses. Many companies use RONA (Return on Net Assets), or some other financial metric. But how connected to this are those qualifying for the bonus? The largest parts of this equation are how much money is coming in, and how much money is going out. These are generally controlled by company executives, and the actions of the masses won't affect those (much). So while I understand wanting to link rewards with results, the facts are that we rarely can connect our actions (processes) with these results. We should strive to reward our people based on the work they do, and goals they can actually achieve themselves, or as an extended team. But this is an arguement for the Incentive Committee, right?

Results-oriented people tend to be suspicious of process metrics. They are often seen as a waste of time. But to process-oriented professionals, process metrics provide a wealth of information. When we reward people for obtaining results, we blow holes in that information, because our processes aren't always adhered to. We should be fostering an environment where the process is MORE important than the results. If this were the case, we would ensure process adherence, as well as process effectiveness. Then, the 'results' would be just one of many ways to evaluate the process, along with the other process metrics.

So take some time over the next few days to look at some job descriptions for Continuous Improvement professionals online. Note how many are looking for 'results-oriented' people vs. 'process-oriented'. Think of it in light of this new way of looking at things. Then pull out YOUR job description, and ask yourself, "Which am I? Process-oriented or Results-oriented? Which should I be?" The answers just might surprise you!

Keywords: Continuous improvement, Key performance indicators, KPI, KPIs, Lean, Lean Six Sigma, Metrics, Process, Process improvement, Process metrics, Results, Six Sigma


no_photo.gifBill Kluck is the Founder and Director of Operations for The Northwest Lean Networks, a professional society which connects the community of lean professionals worldwide. Bill has over 20 years of experience implementing lean in a wide variety of industries, both public and private. He has trained thousands of team members in various lean strategies and techniques, and has overseen financial impact in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Bill is currently the Director of Operational Excellence with The Coca-Cola Company, in Atlanta, Georgia. His main focus is building transformational change and evolving business culture.

Bill earned his Bachelor of Science in Industrial Engineering from the University of Washington, an MBA from Seattle University, and holds several continuous improvement certifications (including a Six Sigma Master Black Belt, and a Masterís Certification in Lean Methods).

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