Six Sigma–The Psychology of Motivating Black Belts


In explaining the psychology behind Six Sigma, the authors of the book Six Sigma:  The Breakthrough Management Strategy Revolutionizing the World’s Top Corporations, Mikel Harry, Ph.D., and Richard Schroeder use a familiar figure from the psychology of human motivation, Abraham Maslow.

Maslow pointed out that human needs can be placed in a hierarchy as follows:

  1. Physiological–hunger, thirst, shelter, sex
  2. Safety–security, protection from physical and emotional harm
  3. Social–affection, belonging, acceptance, and friendship
  4. Esteem or ego–self-respect, autonomy, and achievement; status, recognition, and attention
  5. Self-actualization–stretching to do things one hasn’t done before, learning new things, play

The basic idea of the hierarchy of needs is that if you don’t have category 1 fulfilled, you’re not going to really care about the needs at higher levels.   Only when the lower-level needs are fulfilled, will the human being crave those needs from the higher levels.

This is just a great ordering principle that I use it for my planning diary.   Here are the twelve categories I use:

1.  Health (physiological)

2.  Organization (safety)

3.  Finances (safety)

4.  Work (social)

5.  Family (social)

6.  Networking (social)

7.  Spiritual Community (social)

8.  Professional Development (esteem or ego)

9.  Toastmasters (esteem or ego)

10.  Reading (self-actualization)

11.  Language Learning (self-actualization)

12.  Games (self-actualization)

The twelve areas I organize my daily, weekly, and monthly goals in are arranged in the order of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.   How does this fit in with the author’s discussion of motivating black belts?

It is a given that black belts need compensation (physiological/safety needs), and that they need written and verbal recognition (social needs), and the promise of promotion (esteem or ego needs).   But they also need support in the sense of not worrying about the failure of a single project as long as they and the organization LEARN from the failure through a lessons learned process.   Punishing failure assures that no one dares to stretch, to “dream the impossible dream.”   It is in this area, of the willingness of Black Belts to pursue stretch goals (self-actualization needs) that the company can really motivate Black Belts to keep learning and to inspire others through teaching.

Don’t just worry about the company’s bottom line; if you get Black Belts to start feeling passionate about their projects and learn to be self-motivated through stretch goals, the financial needs of the company will be met, now and in the future.

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