2 Lessons Learned from a Room Full of Black Belts

Last month, I visited New Orleans to present at a conference for a group of Six Sigma Black Belts at Starwood Hotels & Resorts.

Check out this video for a 60 second taste of the Black Belts in action in this engaging and interactive session!

This group was an absolute pleasure to work with because their Six Sigma training and experience has already instilled a deep understanding of the importance of process and feedback. The group enthusiastically embraced new team challenges – jumping right into the physical juggling exercises designed to put concepts of collaboration and improvement into practice. They then came together and shared results and insights that would allow them to better manage the many responsibilities and stakeholders they must juggle as coordinators and directors in the hospitality industry.

Here are the top two lessons reinforced in my collaboration with the Black Belts…

1. Excellence comes from a commitment to process and continuous improvement.

The black belts understand that to make something stick, consistent, disciplined practice is required. A large part of their job responsibility is to help design systems for the optimal guest experience and behind-the-scenes efficiency.

They first must coordinate and collaborate with various stakeholders to create a process. For example – a process for handling a guest complaint. The process is then put in place and followed. At many organizations, the system ends here, but for the black belts, this is just the beginning. The process must then be analyzed to determine its effectiveness. Is it working as expected?  What are the results? Was the guest concern addressed in a timely manner? Could it have been avoided altogether? What could be working better? What could be adjusted to tweak the outcome? This is exactly what my mantra “Learn from the Drops” preaches. Throw the ball, drop it, figure out what went wrong, and make adjustments for the next attempt.

Continuous improvement means that constant adjustments are being made to optimize a process.  The Six Sigmas embrace feedback, love to analyze data, and adapt as required. This focus and flexibility gives them an enhanced ability to manage and create organizational change.

2. Be proactive – anticipating and intercepting obstacles can lead to better solutions than first imagined.

The more we practice and focus on continuous improvement, the more we can anticipate what’s coming. We have logged experience and encountered more possible permutations and combinations of results. For example, the many hours I’ve spent passing juggling clubs with a partner enables me to see a juggling club flying at me and immediately make the necessary adjustments to catch it – or quickly block it from hitting me in the face!  Some intricate combination of watching my partner’s posture, arm, shoulder, and wrist as it releases the club and then calculating the spin, speed and trajectory of the club allows me to react almost without thinking, anticipating where the club will land…but only after years of practice!

sixsigma_1In the hotel and hospitality industry, customer service is paramount, and customer feedback must be regularly analyzed to help determine customer requirements and improve their overall experience. In the example of resolving guest complaints…what if issues could be anticipated and thus avoided altogether? The black belts are proactive in executing regular checks to determine if the optimal system is in place and what may need to be modified. For example, could adjusting room cleaning procedures or maintenance checks help eliminate guest complaints? Instead of just working to minimize reaction time to resolve a complaint, why not reduce the number of complaints altogether by anticipating potential problems and resolving them before they become an issue? A simple, genius shift that results in outcomes far better than ever expected.

The black belts work to constantly hone their communication skills so that they can manage their diverse teams and facilitate the sharing of information amongst various parties that may not normally collaborate. By doing so, they can intercept obstacles and affect dramatic change within the organization.

In case you missed the 60 second video of the Black Belts in action…

Now call me and let’s schedule one for your team today!