What is WorkOut?
WorkOut is a process for involving large numbers of people simultaneously in process improvement. The WorkOut Process captures the collective creativity of an organization on critical business issues and translates those ideas into action. Work-Outs can be simple, focusing on eliminating bureaucracy and rework or rigorous, using advanced analytical tools. GE invented WorkOut in the late 80s, primarily to eliminate red tape and to encourage employees to get involved and take action. Increasingly, the focus of WorkOut shifted to business processes, then to customers and suppliers, then to change acceleration. By the late 1990s, WorkOut had become the basis for the company’s push into Six Sigma and has since served as the foundation for GE’s work on digitization and e-business.
How Does WorkOut work?
WorkOut typically consists of three phases, all done as rapidly as possible.
Design: During the design phase, senior leaders identify the business issue they want to address and set a "stretch target" for the WorkOut. A WorkOut designer, typically an internal or external consultant, guides the leadership team through the process, from defining the problem to organizing a town hall meeting. The design phase usually takes a few weeks, although it can be accomplished in as little as one session if the WorkOut is very focused and simple.
Conduct: Next comes the WorkOut event itself. This event involves from 5 to more than 100 participants from all levels and functions in the business, and lasts one to three days, depending on the complexity of the issue being addressed. During the WorkOut, business leaders challenge participants to solve an important business problem or achieve a challenging goal. Participants then work in small teams to brainstorm, prioritize, and select a few ideas for achieving the performance goal. They develop detailed presentations and plans for putting these ideas into action. At the end of the session, teams present their recommended plans to the sponsor, other key leaders, and all the other WorkOut participants in a town meeting. There is discussion and debate and, most importantly, an immediate "yes/no" decision by senior management.
Implement: After the event, teams have to implement their approved recommendations and plans very quickly – in just a few weeks. Depending on the implementation capabilities of the organization, and the complexity of the issues being addressed, this period can involve regular team meetings, structured review sessions with senior management, and a formal meeting to close out the work at the end of the period and reflect on what has been learned. WorkOut recommendations are typically being implemented within sixty days.
Organizing and conducting a WorkOut requires at least four different roles:
Senior Leaders or Sponsors are responsible for identifying the business problem and scoping a challenge for the organization, including a stretch target. One senior executive will be in charge of sponsoring the WorkOut and approving the recommendations made by the team. In most organizations, however, a number of senior executives are involved in the process.
Designers are internal consultants who work directly with leadership teams to design the WorkOut event. They help coach the Sponsor and moderate the town hall meeting. In addition, they oftentimes coach team facilitators and coordinate the individual teams that implement the actions approved by the leadership team during the WorkOut.
Facilitators work with teams of employees during the town hall meeting and facilitate the discussion. Technically, the only requirement for being a team facilitator is the ability to facilitate a group through the process using a relatively small number of tools and techniques. This role is so crucial however that we recommend nominating high potentials with strong team leadership skills and the credibility to work with representatives from various functions.
Finally, employees both generate the ideas for meeting the WorkOut challenge and are in charge of implementing the ideas after the town hall meeting.
WorkOut in Action
As a testimony to its impact and applicability, WorkOut has been used over the last decade by hundreds of organizations around the world, including pharmaceutical companies such as GlaxoSmithKline and Johnson & Johnson; financial services firms such as Fidelity and Zurich Financial Services; utilities such as ConEdison; retailers such as Wal-Mart; and manufacturers such as General Motors.
To get started with the WorkOut process, it makes sense to use consultants who have experience with the process. However, WorkOut is most powerful when it is ingrained in the way the organization adapts to the shifting needs of the business. To get to that point, we suggest that companies internalize the capability to conduct WorkOut sessions.
To facilitate the internalizing of WorkOut, Rath & Strong offers a comprehensive WorkOut package that includes:
WorkOut is very flexible and can take various forms. Some WorkOuts focus simply on taking wasteful work out of an organization (hence the name WorkOut). Others focus on improving processes. Still others build partnerships between customers and suppliers. Firms such as GE have used WorkOut in every form.
WorkOut helps break down the boundaries that limit success in an organization, whether among different layers, between functions or business units, or across countries and continents. With use, WorkOut has a profound impact on the culture of an organization, as managers and staff alike demonstrate that they can "achieve the impossible" repeatedly. People gain new skills, capabilities, and confidence, building an organization that is capable of rapid and successful change on an ongoing basis.
Integrating WorkOut and Six Sigma
When WorkOut (with its speed and empowerment) and Six Sigma (with its rigorous analytical methods) are used together, there are additional benefits:
Combining the two approaches helps an organization use the appropriate tool for the problem at hand, avoiding a "one size fits all" mentality. Those that deploy only Six Sigma may find that many of the identified projects do not require sophisticated tools at all, and using Six Sigma to address the issue is overkill. On the other end of the spectrum are organizations that use only WorkOut, these organizations may find that this process lacks the advanced analytical tools required to really get to the root cause.
If an organization is to move beyond simply fixing problems using statistical tools and instead take full advantage of all Six Sigma can offer, it needs supportive leaders who are willing and able to make decisions and act decisively. The WorkOut process helps to develop leadership behaviors such as communicating clearly, acting decisively, empowering others, and setting clear goals; these behaviors are vital in organizations deploying Six Sigma.
Experience shows that although Six Sigma has substantial paybacks, it requires a long-term commitment. Expecting results within the first nine months is unrealistic; even General Electric, often considered as the prime example for deploying Six Sigma correctly, did not break even in the first year of deployment. Maintaining leadership commitment and momentum during this waiting period is a significant challenge for everybody deploying Six Sigma; a combined WorkOut and Six Sigma program helps to address the issue. WorkOut’s ability to deliver tangible results within sixty days helps the organization and its leader to maintain momentum, especially when Black Belts and Master Black Belts play key roles in deploying WorkOut.
These three benefits suggest that by combining Six Sigma and WorkOut, an organization can achieve substantial results without overloading its workers.
GE devoted almost five years to the development, introduction, and use of WorkOut throughout the company before beginning Six Sigma. As described in the 1996 GE Annual Report, WorkOut defined "how GE behaved," while Six Sigma influenced "how GE worked." The behaviors that stemmed from WorkOut allowed GE to operate more freely across boundaries, to reduce bureaucracy, to be open to learning, to introduce "speed" into every aspect of the company, and to focus on customers. Six Sigma provided the tools and infrastructure to translate those behaviors into systematic, sustainable, and continually increasing results.
The lesson of GE’s experience, and that of many other firms, is that the right behavior and culture are necessary components for making Six Sigma effective. If your organization already works well across boundaries, can make fast decisions, focuses on customers and results, and is open to learning, then you might be ready to start immediately with Six Sigma. If you need to create those behaviors, then WorkOut might be right for you. If you are somewhere in the middle, then combining WorkOut and Six Sigma might be a powerful way to proceed.
Speed and simplicity
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By using our WorkOut training package, clients can internalize WorkOut rapidly, leverage their Six Sigma resources, and build crucial consulting skills … without losing momentum in their Six Sigma deployment.
Rath & Strong’s combined approach includes:
- Integrated training programs for leaders, internal consultants, and project leaders
- Software to facilitate the tracking of projects
- Consulting services that are geared towards helping clients become self-sufficient
Similarities Between the Roles in WorkOut and Six Sigma
Both WorkOut and Six Sigma require skilled and trained individuals who can put the toolkit to good use. The roles that exist in a WorkOut program are actually quite similar to those in a Six Sigma program:
Master Black Belts in Six Sigma and Designers in WorkOut are similar in that both act as internal consultants to leadership and improvement teams. Teaching a Master Black Belt to use Work-Out does not require a substantial investment in training.
The same applies more or less to the Six Sigma Black Belts and WorkOut facilitators . Both work with teams, rely on their ability to facilitate teams, and need to work with internal and external stakeholders to lead the projects to completion.
Leaders, whether they are driving a Six Sigma effort or a WorkOut program, need to act as sponsors, eliminate roadblocks, communicate with clarity, and establish clear and challenging goals.
By combining the programs and offering customized training for these individuals, the organization not only increases its problem-solving capacity but also develops a cadre of leaders who can play key roles in the organization’s future and acquires an integrated approach to tackle a broad range of challenges.
Rath & Strong’s "WorkOut & Six Sigma" program helps to
- accelerate the implementation of Six Sigma
- maintain leadership commitment
- develop critical leadership behaviors
- deliver tangible results faster
- energize and involve the entire organization