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5 Imperatives to Hiring a Lean Six Sigma Expert for Your Hospital

Submitted By: Brian MacClaren
Categories: Healthcare | Leading Change

Hiring an expert is often one of the first steps taken by hospitals embarking upon a Lean Healthcare or Lean Six Sigma program. Usually a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt is chosen to develop the program. Unfortunately, there are few Black Belts at large that actually have the Lean Six Sigma skills and healthcare experience necessary to build an effective, self-sustaining program.

Imperative #1- Know How to Evaluate Technical Proficiency

With the recent explosion of open enrollment training programs from local colleges and online providers, there is no shortage of candidates who claim Lean Six Sigma expertise on their resumes. For Lean Six Sigma, training is only a first step of the journey to become proficient in the multitude of tools that your organization can take advantage of. During an interview with a candidate, one imperative is to evaluate the mastery of technical skills.

First and foremost, we have learned that it is unwise to take a candidate’s depiction of technical skills on their resume at face value. These skills must be demonstrated during the interview because, in our experience, Lean Six Sigma certification does not prepare an individual to be an internal consultant for an organization such as yours. But how do you evaluate technical skills during a candidate interview? We recommend doing this in three ways:

1. Written exam
2. Oral exam
3. Platform instruction

Written Exam
Sound like a job for a professional certifying organization? Yes, but… the body of knowledge for Lean Six Sigma professionals varies so much across industries that only one organization can be relied upon for producing a certified Lean Six Sigma Black Belt. This organization is the American Society for Quality (ASQ) – and its Black Belt certification exam is one of the most rigorous in the industry. NOVACES bases all of its Lean Six Sigma courses on ASQ’s body of knowledge. If a resume does not say ASQ CSSBB (Certified Six Sigma Black Belt), then you must be prepared to administer an exam for each these candidates. Administer this exam before you spend time interviewing the candidate – without technical skills you must pass on the candidate completely.

We recommend an exam that includes a mixture of multiple choice questions related to Lean, Six Sigma, and even Theory of Constraints. The exam should be design with a minimum passing score of 80% and generally no less than 30 questions. If you need help designing such an exam, or would like to have your exam evaluated for content and correctness, please contact us and we will assist you. We also have collections of exam questions with healthcare context to share.

Oral Exam
This is a very effective element of the candidate evaluation process. Granted that the candidate has already passed the written exam, this gives the interviewer a chance to see how the individual might interact with people in your organization that require coaching or explanations of information during projects.

Importantly, this is done without giving the candidate any chance in advance to prepare. Do not be hesitant to do this. It is an exercise that puts their mastery of the skillset to the test. If the candidate needs six months to a year to grow into the job you are hiring them for, then a better alternative is to grow a trusted member of your team that already knows your organization’s culture and politics.

During the oral exam, ask questions that a Black Belt should be expected to be able to answer as if they have been doing this job professionally for several years. These are questions such as:

  • Identify which type of data is represented by several examples
  • Select the correct tool to apply for various scenarios
  • Calculate the number of defects per million opportunities (DPMO)
  • Walk through the steps to correctly perform a hypothesis test
  • Discuss the steps they take when facilitating an improvement workshop from pre-workshop preparation to post-workshop sustainment

The expectation, of course, is that the candidate can correctly answer all of these questions. Failing to do so leaves their technical skills suspect, because this type of knowledge should be automatic. However, what you also need to read into is the following:

  1. How confident was the candidate about the answer? Did they stumble? If so, how did they handle not knowing the answer immediately?
  2. Did they simply answer the question or did they walk you through why they answered the way they did? Were they more like a teacher or a student? You need the teacher.

This part of the interview usually benefits by having someone who is a trusted technical expert listen in and help with the evaluation. The oral evaluation really puts the candidate in the hot seat – which is exactly where you need them to be most effective when working at-large in your organization.

Platform Instruction
The final test to evaluate the technical Lean healthcare and Six Sigma skills for hospitals serves two purposes: (1) does the candidate know the material well enough that they can effectively teach others; and (2) how soon will you be able to internalize the training for your organization by relying on this individual to teach your physicians, nurses, technicians and other staff members?

This part of the interview benefits from preparation in advance by the candidate. Send a selection of two to three sets of slides about 2-3 days in advance of the interview. The selections of slides should consist of your organization’s Lean Six Sigma training materials, such as those that a consulting company used for training an initial group or from an open enrollment course that you may have sent people to for training. The selections should cover the following:

  • An introductory topic, such as “Introduction to Lean Six Sigma”
  • The application of several basic quality tools (fishbone diagram, visual management, metrics, voice of the customer, etc.)
  • The application of a more advanced statistical tool, or a topic that you believe is critical for your organization

During the interview, have the candidate teach the training material as if you were a member of the class. Ask questions (even a couple tough ones) to see how the candidate handles being “off the slide.” Pay careful attention to how information is explained. Is it taught from experience and example, or is the candidate reading the bullets? Has the candidate prepared and demonstrated how they can communicate from the platform. And importantly, can the candidate relate the topics to healthcare and to you?

Hiring a Lean Six Sigma expert for healthcare is an important task. This person will likely be your one-person army in making the program a success for the first year or two. These technical skills are a must-have for any candidate you will hire into your organization for this job. This individual will be responsible for good results on the first projects and for growing new talent within your organization. Take the steps outlined in this edition of “5 Imperatives to Hiring a Lean Six Sigma Expert for Your Hospital” and increase the chances of growing a productive and rewarding performance improvement program.

Keep watch for the next installment of this series to learn more about the 5 imperatives. You can also find more information about building a best-of-breed improvement program in our book, Performance Improvement in Healthcare.

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