Motivating Millennials with Lean and Six Sigma

Motivating Millennials with Lean and Six Sigma
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Luciana Paulise

Last updated February 24, 2017


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A lot is being said about Millennials, the new generation of workers. More than one-in-three American workers today is a Millennial, born between 1982 and 1994. Now they have already surpassed Generation X to become the largest single demographic of the American workforce, according to new Pew Research Center analysis of U.S.Census Bureau data.

But, what’s wrong with Millennials? Employers were used to generation X (30 to 45 years), they were quiet, and they were looking forward to stay on a job forever as they valued stability. No matter how many hours they would have to stay a day to keep the job, they would do it. But millennials are different. They want autonomy, feedback, flexibility (working from 5 to 6 in the same place very day is not cool) and inspiration (instead of just direction), therefore traditional management practices don’t work so well for them. They will only be truly committed to their job if they get to love it.

A methodology that is really effective and attractive to them is Lean Six Sigma. Every time I implement it in any kind of company, millennials seem to be the more engaged with the improvement projects.

It turns out that Lean Six sigma, as opposite to other methodologies, is more effective in a culture where autonomy, feedback, flexibility and inspiration are key. And here is why:

  • Autonomy: Lean six sigma projects allow people to work in a different way. Leaders work closely with them, they are no longer distant managers who only make decisions. Objectives are set by the whole team, and the leader is a facilitator to meet those objectives. Millennials appreciate this because they feel more important, and they feel that someone cares about them. They also enjoy more than any other generation being part of a team.
  • Feedback: every lean six sigma project has milestones that need to be measured and followed up. Hence, reviewing results periodically is part of the implementation schedule. In fact, one of the key differentiators of lean six sigma projects is that at the beginning you estimate earnings or costs saved with the proposed improvements. Therefore in the end, you measure again your results and compare the actual savings with the estimated ones. This is really appealing to Millennials, as they love feedback. They want to know what they are doing wrong, but also what is it that they are doing well. Traditional feedback sessions are held once a year, only to fill in a form that will drive your salary increase (or not). But millennials want feedback more often, in order to help them change as quick as needed in order to be able to contribute. They also want results to be shared, not only individual ones but also they are interested on the team accomplishments. And don’t forget that they also love to celebrate!
  • Flexibility: Hours at work is not the measurement method for lean six sigma, what counts is meeting the deadlines for each of the milestones. Usually lean six sigma projects are not even a full time job. Only black belts tend to be full time dedicated to projects, the rest of the participants are usually working on their daily task while also working on an improvement project. That’s great for millennials because that will reduce the probability to get bored (Yes! 91% of Millennials expect to stay in a job for less than 3 years!) . It’s not even important if they are working from home, or from a Starbucks, in New Delhi or Silicon Valley as long as the project keep moving. Lately many companies like ExxonMobil, BP or JP Morgan have implemented continuous improvement projects to align processes across different countries through business support centers. 
  • Inspiration: Millennials want more than anything to be inspired, by a leader, and by a purpose. Quality projects are always driven not only by a financial reason. They look forward to improving employee’s work environment, increase customer satisfaction, or even reduce carbon footprint. Big projects may impact customers, suppliers, even the safety of the community (E.G. automobile industry recalls or take the most recent Samsung S7 recall), so the purpose beyond the project is never overlooked.

Finally, Millennials value so much all these four characteristics, that if they find a job that provide those, they are going to be the happiest and most loyal worker. While working on Lean six sigma projects they will increase their motivation at work, so all the other tasks will also be executed with sparking energy and innovation. In the end, you will keep a loyal employee, who is driven by a continuous improvement culture and learning every day. 

Motivating Millennials

About the Author

Luciana is a business consultant and founder of Biztorming Training & Consulting. She holds an MBA from CEMA University, a top-ranked institution at Buenos Aires, Argentina. She is also a Quality Engineer certified by the American Society of Quality (ASQ). She has participated as an examiner for the National Quality Award in Argentina. She is also a columnist for Infobae (Argentina), Destino Negocio (Spain) and the Influential Voices program for the ASQ (US).


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