From INNOVATING LEAN SIX SIGMA by Kimberly Watson-Hemphill.

We’ve run into an odd phenomenon many times in recent years. When we talk to deployment leaders, they complain to us that their business leaders
aren’t showing strong support. But when we talk to the business leaders, they say that they support these initiatives and are unaware of any specific actions that they should personally be taking.

It’s vital to help  leaders understand their role. We recommend holding a kickoff event that has three parts:

1. The CEO or, at a minimum, the top executive for the work unit presents the goals, the case for change, and why the company is embarking upon Lean Six Sigma.
2. The Lean Six Sigma team provides awareness-level training on the methodology and presents an overview of the upcoming deployment.
3. The session closes by setting expectations for what is specifically required of the leadership team.

Afterwards, you should focus on those leaders who have demonstrated a natural affinity for continuous improvement and leverage their enthusiasm by helping them work on five areas:

1. Creating a sense of urgency. According to leadership expert John Kotter, not creating a “statement of urgency” is the root cause of 95 percent of large initiative failures. Leaders should develop a compelling message around what needs to happen in the organization, and define the consequences if the change doesn’t take place soon, so that there is urgency concerning implementation. This is one of the most important actions that leaders often miss. They believe that just saying, “We are implementing Lean Six Sigma,” is enough to mobilize the workforce. But that’s far from true. For one thing, there is usually a time lag between when the C-suite sees a problem brewing and when the rank and file believe it. You will have an easier time overcoming any potential initial resistance to Lean Six Sigma if the leaders are clear about why it has to happen now.

2. Drive consistent messaging throughout the organization. How the business leaders think and act concerning Lean Six Sigma will set the tone for everyone else. This is not a one-and-done thing—leaders can’t refer to Lean Six Sigma once in a speech and never mention it again. They should take every chance to talk about the vision for how Lean Six Sigma can help the company (explaining the why) and each group’s role in making its success a reality.

3. Demonstrate the importance of Lean Six Sigma work.Many of the problems that deployment leaders struggle with (projects with unimpressive results, staffing choices based on “who’s available” instead of “who could do the work well”) stem from a lack of demonstrated executive support. To avoid these issues, leaders should help establish objectives and goals that are linked to their priorities. Lean Six Sigma should be viewed as the way the leaders will achieve their priorities. If everyone knows that work on a Lean Six Sigma project will help drive an executive priority, people will pick important projects, devote adequate resources to the effort, and make sure that top-notch resources are assigned to projects.

4. Review progress regularly. Executives should review Lean Six Sigma deployment metrics and results at regular management meetings. Part of the review should include presentations of example projects by belts and the sponsors. This will give both the deployment and the individuals involved increased visibility and help build momentum for the program. By presenting both successful projects and also some that could have been done better, there is an opportunity for learning and improvement.

5. Remove obstacles to success. Lean Six Sigma efforts don’t exist in a vacuum, separate from everything else that’s happening in an organization. It’s part of the responsibility of leaders who are committed to the effort to deal with the critical issues that could prevent the organization from using Lean Six Sigma to achieve its vision. They should be relentless in looking for and removing barriers to success (and this may include people).