Conversational Six Sigma

Conversational Six Sigma

As time goes by, we all find ourselves in social settings having casual conversation with others.  During the course of such conversations, it’s not unusual for people to ask what you do for a living or who you work for.  But when “Six Sigma” comes up, what do you say?  How do you keep the subject light and airy while adding some spots of humor?  Let’s face it, if not done well, talking about Six Sigma can only make you look like one of those people with white tape around their glasses, a pocket protector full of pens, high water pants and a shoelace not tied – you know what I mean?

In other words, it’s highly doubtful you will be able to emulate the personality of Dale Carnegie and amaze them with your knowledge of “How to Win Friends and Influence People.”  In short, how can you talk about Six Sigma in a mixed group of naïve people without boring them to death?  Maybe if you have some of Tony Robins’ DNA, it might come natural for you, but for the rest of us, if we open our mouth and begin talking about Six Sigma a little sign appears over our head that says: “Beware, you are engaging with a geek.”  At that moment, we sometimes find it odd why others in the conversational group start saying “Excuse me, I have to make a call,” or make a statement like “Just a second, I’ll be right back.”  With these words, it sure doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what’s happening – they are avoiding you.  Worse yet is when your boss is there or some VIP.

Having been in such situations many, many times, I can assure you there are some fun and engaging ways to talk about Six Sigma, but do so in a way that your audience likes it  – and gets a few chuckles at the same time.  For example, over the last 30 years, I’ve been to so many luncheons, dinners, cocktail parties and social events where mingling is not an option — its a political necessity.  People are there to acquire power and position.  Sorry, but that’s the business world — as harsh as it may be.

As previously pointed out, you sometimes have to play the role of a social butterfly; and if you don’t join in on the conversations, you can easily become labeled a Lone Wolf or Mushroom.  Right now you might be thinking to yourself: “I hate talking to people I don’t know.  I’m just no good at it.”  Well, while you’re lamenting about your fears of public speaking and shedding a tear or two in your beer, keep this thought in the center of your mind’s eye: “If you don’t toot your own horn once in a while, people will start using it as a spittoon.” Once that happens, forget it — your horn is forever tarnished.  Granted, people shouldn’t prejudge or stereotype you, but the reality is they do — all the time — its never ending.  So rather than fight it, use it to your advantage.

Hello, anybody home?  Do you get it now?  If you want to stay in your current job forever or hate pay raises, then read no further.  On the other hand, if you have some career aspirations and a little twinkle for power in your eye, you might want to consider what we’re talking about here, especially if you’re in a Six Sigma role, like that of a Black Belt or Green Belt.

It doesn’t take a Harvard Ph.D. to tell you that labels such as Lone Wolf and Mushroom are not good for your career, especially the vertical part of your career.  Just like marketing organizations want to brand the company’s products, you must continually be thinking about your own branding.  People gravitate to brands, plain and simple.  If your branding is off the mark or nonexistent, so are your career chances.  You have a brand, but you may not know it yet.  If not, just ask around — other people know.  Like it or not, things like branding and communications is what makes the world go around, social or otherwise.  Given this, you can choose to play-the-game or pay-the-game.  Actually, playing the game is not that bad.  Being a conversational butterfly can be a lot of fun once you get the hang of it.  So don’t fight it, embrace it.  If you try to fight it, you’re guaranteed to lose, but if you embrace it, your odds of success will be greatly enhanced.  This is one of those cases where you stand everything to gain and nothing to loose.

Think about it.  If you start off with some geek-like branding and then work to do a personal and professional make-over, but subsequently fail, you’ve lost nothing (excepting a little pride and maybe a few bucks along the way).  On the other hand, if you don’t play the game, you’ll never know.  After all, who would have ever guessed that a farm kid from Middletown, Indiana would go on to co-create the most powerful business management system in the world (Six Sigma).  I’m here to tell you, I was fortunate to learn early on that no matter how good you are at what you do, if you can’t market it, you’re taking the long-trip to nowhere.  So, while I developed my technical skills, I also worked just as diligently on my soft skills.  Needless to say, it payed off handsomely and in more than just economic terms.  Trust me, when you talk to an executive, they have only two words in their vocabulary — money and time.  If you can’t speak to what your doing, what you have created or what you have proposed in terms of time and money — well, game over.

Don’t be one of those promising up and comers at work that only attends the annual Christmas party for an hour and then goes home.  Go to as many social functions as you can; and try not to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory by showing your techy side.  Quite often, the golf club is mightier than the computer. Like the old BAF television commercial used to say: “We don’t make the golf ball, we make the stuff that makes the ball go farther.”  Well, the same can be said for your social and communication skills.

Another funny thing, it takes considerably less time and effort to pick-up on some good social and communication skills than it does to become a Lean Six Sigma Black.  Even funnier is learning through the school of hard knocks that those social and communication skills are what will turbocharge your career.  As the law of leverage would point out – you’re ability to pick up a pen and write out the calculus than underpins multiple regression will only account for 20% of your success in the business world.  The other 80% is all about people stuff.  Just bear in mind that without good communication skills and practices, it’s real easy for a very smart person to come off dumber than a box of rocks at a social gathering.  If your ad-hoc discussion group at a cocktail hour senses you’re a geek, you might as well pack it in, go home, turn on your computer and solve some equation.

So, once you find yourself in a social situation, you must know when and how to jump in and play the game?  Truth is you should first step into a conversation and let others do the talking.  In this way, you can demonstrate your listening skills and provide some clarifying feedback along the way.  Thus, they believe you’re truly interested in what they’re saying.  Make it about them, not you, at least in the short-run.  Now, you may not understand what their talking about – perhaps its politics or who’s doing what in Hollywood.

The topic isn’t really important.  Just try to use phrases like: “That’s really interesting, can you tell us a little more about that?”  Remember, these types of comments make you appear humble and sincere.  As a sidebar, don’t be looking around the room or checking your iPhone.  Look at them (and the others) while you talk to them – stay in eye contact at all times while you listen and speak.  Granted, you might respond to this advice by saying: “Woah, that will take a lot of work.”  Guess what?  You’re right, it does take some practice, but once you get it down, it no longer feels awkward or work-like.

Meanwhile back at the ranch, wait for a lull in the conversation and then inject something like: “So, what you’re really saying is this situation is not very Six Sigma like.”  Like clockwork, at least one in the group will turn to you and say something to the effect: “What’s that,” or “Tell us a little more about that.”  Well, here’s your chance to shine.  Simply jump in and say something like:

“Six Sigma is a way to measure the goodness in something.  When you’re Six Sigma, whatever you’re doing is best-of-best, like near perfect.  Average is about Four Sigma and Two Sigma is absolutely horrid.  Think of it this way, we know that airline baggage handling is about Four Sigma, but airline flight safety is a little over Six Sigma.  This means the next time you get on a plane to go somewhere, your body is about 1,800 times more likely to get there than your bags.  Another way to think about it is in terms of how much time someone spends arguing with their spouse.  Image a couple being married for 50 years – that’s a long time.  If over that period of time they spent about 1.5 hours arguing about things, that would be Six Sigma.  On the other hand, if someone has a 50 year Four Sigma marriage, they’ll argue away for about a year.  Well, 1.5 hours in heated argument versus a full year, it’s no wonder the probability of a successful celebrity marriage is less than Two Sigma.  So, I guess that’s why people, like corporations, strive to be Six Sigma – it’s a higher form of being.  Kind of Zen like.”

After delivering your entertaining performance, you should gracefully withdraw from the conversation.  Remember, you don’t want to buy back what you just sold, so to speak.  Let me say that again, you don’t want to buy back what you just sold.  On the flip side, there will always be one or two people that will naturally want to know a little more and ask you to keep talking.  Of course, the others are ready to move on in the conversation.  Potential conflict is now in the air.  To make sure you don’t get caught up in that trap, quickly tell a quick joke as you’re departing, but make sure it relates to the topic.

For example, just ask them: “You might not know this, but Six Sigma uses a bunch of scary looking statistics. By the way, does anyone here really know what a statistician is?  After a brief moment, deliver the punch line: “A statistician is someone who puts their head in the oven and feet in the freezer and says on average they feel fine.”  After the laugh, just say you’ll be back in a little while.  Naturally, when that time comes, the group has already dissipated.  This is your signal to now inject yourself into yet another conversation.  Just as before, just wash-and-rinse, but be sure to add some variations and a different joke.

So there’s your blueprint to having successful conversations about Six Sigma with influential people who know nothing about it.  Done right, you can milk your cookie-cutter conversation all evening and make each encounter sound different.  Next thing you know, you’ve got people following you as you butterfly around the groups.  Do these things and you’ll go home a hero.  Better yet, you’ll go home having influenced some people toward your way of thinking.  As this happens across social events, you will naturally gain momentum, recognition and respect.

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Dr. Mikel J. Harry Biography & Professional Vita

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About Mikel Harry

Dr. Harry has been widely recognized in many of today's notable publications as the Co-Creator of Six Sigma and the world's leading authority within this field. His book entitled Six Sigma: The Breakthrough Management Strategy Revolutionizing the World’s Top Corporations has been on the best seller list of the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Business Week, and He has been a consultant to many of the world’s top senior executives, such as Jack Welch, former CEO and Chairman of General Electric Corporation. Dr. Harry has also been a featured guest on popular television programs, such as the premier NBC show "Power Lunch." He is often quoted in newspapers like USA Today and interviewed by the media, such as The Economic Times. In addition, Dr. Harry has received many distinguished awards in recognition of his contributions to industry and society. At the present time, Dr. Harry is Chairman of the Six Sigma Management Institute and CEO of The Great Discovery, LLC.
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2 Responses to Conversational Six Sigma

  1. Reblogged this on Mbarriger and commented:
    How to speak about what Six Sigma is?

  2. Last year I had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Harry about NBC Sitcom’s “30 Rock” episode on 6 Sigma. The following videos were shared, and during my laughter I noticed Dr. Harry right alongside of me commenting, “That was hilarious!” We both enjoyed the parity of what television had done for our profession.

    In this article he pointed out that explaining what we do is difficult sometimes – but beneficial to be articulate in making fun and helping people understand. Note I have received comments and questions during these conversations in the past such as:

    • “You break boards with your hands?”

    • “When Daniel asked Mr. Miyagi in Karate Kid where he got his belt it was $3.98 from JC Penny, is it the same kind?”

    • “Oh yeah, I know a guy that works for the government doing the same thing. He just is so secret that he isn’t even allowed to know what he is doing.”

    • “So you solve problems with math huh? Why don’t you get a real job?”

    Very much in alignment of what Dr.Harry has shown us above: Six Sigma can be explained and delivered with fun. Six Sigma is very much the measure of goodness in a system.

    Imagine if we could get Google to allow us to put 6 Sigma meters in the new glasses. The world would be seen in a different way.

    Until then Dr.Harry and I know an incredible group of proven and real belts out there that would love to help you with your opportunities.

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