What’s in a name?

“A Christmas calendar is not an Advent Calendar!”

I had been listening to the football on BBC Radio 5 Live the night before and had forgotten to switch the channel back to Radio 4 for my wife’s enjoyment.

Broadcaster Rachel Burden was not best pleased about some populist who was marketing her Christmas calendar, with various goodies on offer behind each daily window. The gist seemed to be about the dates. Christmas calendar dates apparently start after Christmas, whereas Advent is the period preceding Christmas.  Well that’s clear then unless you come from a warm country where one part of a freezing month sounds much the same as another.

So the retailer was apparently confusing the nature of the product on offer by casual or careful vagueness about its name. And the broadcaster was set on correcting the nation’s understanding.

This reminds me of the UK’s decision to leave the European Union.

“Brexit means Brexit”. That’s nice and clear. It appeals to each and every reader, viewed from their own perspective. We can leave those Europeans behind after an unfortunate 40 year hiatus. Or we can introduce parliamentary bill amendments ad nauseam under the guise of legislative clarity whilst plotting to subvert the “will of the people” so we can “stay in”. Some of the electorate believed that leaving the EU meant £350M a week, or was it an hour, would be available to be spent on the NHS.

 Which brings me to the subject of Green Belts….

Post Brexit the UK and US economies apparently are going to see a surge of new manufacturing industries that will rebalance the service economies that we have come to rely on since the 80s’.

And green belts will be delivering huge returns on investment to their organisations. Well they will if they know how to complete an improvement project where the root cause is unknown and requires complex problem solving skills. Unfortunately there is no legislation that says suppliers offering “Green Belt Training” have to know much or provide an offering that might allow companies to secure a decent return on their investment.

The effect has been to create scepticism in the holders of the corporate purse.

In the last 20 years Green belt training has changed from a relatively rigorous structured programme of training, largely for process engineers whose very jobs were to solve complex problems, and to progress to black belt status after they had completed some projects, used the tools, gained management’s trust, perhaps been promoted.

But some of the seven deadly sins intervened. Greed, slothfulness?

There was a race to the bottom. Suppose I know nothing so can only compete on price. Now if asked I can say “you don’t need this and you don’t need that technique”. Assuming you know less than me then in the kingdom of the blind I, as a one eyed man, am king.

Gradually purchasers became wary and started asking for some sort of independent verification of standards.  And then Pandora opened her box.

I was attending Master Black belt class in the late 1990s when the directors’ of an international  quality organisation turned up to learn about six sigma. Soon they were offering black belt certification by exam. Does that help paying customers to secure a return on their investment? Fast forward to 2004. Another national quality organisation asked for a meeting which led to a national Academy. And then the standards bodies got involved. ISO standard ISO 13053 describing the minimum content was introduced. This was a helpful development, despite effectively putting a stake in the ground after much dumbing down had already taken place.

And now there is another standard, (ISO 18404), to certify the individuals. We still come across “green” and “black” belts from time to time who aren’t effective problem solvers, despite their belt.

The net effect has been to make Six Sigma, Lean Six Sigma, Lean Sigma, LSS a somewhat discredited brand. Wrongly in my view. Managed properly it is an incredibly powerful set of tools, techniques, way of understanding different stakeholders wants and needs, avoiding jumping to conclusions, eliminating rework, driving productivity, securing employment, arresting climate change, advancing human behaviours and providing a future for future generations.

If you want to buy an Advent calendar, vote or embark on problem solving check behind the hype.


Colm Doran

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