Identifying The Ideal Healthcare Black Belt

ISE Magazine June 2019 Volume: 51 Number: 6

By Casey Bedgood


In the healthcare world, common discussions revolve around the question, “Why are some healthcare lean Six Sigma pro-grams successful while others are not?”

There are many factors that contribute to successful change management pro-grams such as organizational culture, program structure, available resources, organizational maturity with lean Six Sigma application, training, top leadership support, etc. But the most important ingredient begins and ends with the people chosen and entrusted with implementing change management methodologies across the enterprise.

Black belts, if properly trained and utilized, will become top leaders impacting and leading change throughout the enterprise. There-fore, identifying the right black belt characteristics and deploying the proper selection process for black belt candidates are pivotal in ensuring program and organizational success long-term.

The ideal attributes of internal black belt consultants depend on the organization and its resources, but there are a few desired basic attributes that will limit or drive the success of the black belt candidate and change management program.

Base knowledge. In healthcare, it is crucial that black belt candidates possess a basic understanding of how operations, clinical environments and process improvement integrate and impact each other. These three main functions are not mutually exclusive and are dependent upon each other to ensure organizational survival and long-term relevancy. Operations, clinical environments and process improvement make up 90% to 95% of healthcare business operations and a lack of knowledge related to any of these factors will limit the black belt’s role, credibility, effectiveness and ability to impact change throughout the enterprise.

Aptitude and willingness to learn. Successful black belts need a basic understanding of how statistics, data analysis, strategic designand healthcare system functions relate to the customer facing healthcare environment and be able to apply them practically. As a business undergraduate in a microeconomics class, I learned early on that, “If you can’t see it and/or use it in the real world, it’s not worth knowing,” according to Stuart Mounts, Ph.D. Successful black belts will be continual learners with a passion for practical application of change management techniques in the customer environments.

Facilitation and communication. Ideal black belt candidates must be able to facilitate cross-functional teams and communicate effectively at all levels of the healthcare organization, from the C-suite to front-line staff. Cross-functional teams comprise clinicians ranging from paramedics and nurses to physicians and operational leaders, from C-suite leaders to front-line supervisors and staff of various business and support functions. Success depends upon the ability to communicate effectively to various audiences at once and gain the confi-dence, participation and support of those stakeholders. A key facilitation attribute is the ability to sell the big picture in a few words while staying out of the weeds and avoid overwhelming the audience with minute details.

Results-oriented. Black belts are masters of driving significant results usually in very compressed time frames. Successful black belt projects will impact the entire health system and potentially the surrounding region if structured and executed properly. Ideal black belt candidates will drive hard savings that impact the organization’s financial statement, improve quality measure outcomes that impact direct clinical services provided to customers and streamline service channels to ensure customers receive great access to healthcare when and where needed.

The ultimate test of a well-rounded black belt is the ability to drive significant results in clinical, service and financial arenas throughout the organization, which demands successful projects outside the black belt’s area of comfort

Publication. Successful black belts should be able to publish the organization’s change management success stories to achieve organizational, team and program recognition and credibility. A good starting point would be simple, well-respected peer review publications outlining the team’s and organization’s success with lean Six Sigma methodology application. Publications also serve as good cost-effective motivators and recognition platforms for internal team members, stake-holders and black belt leaders. A realistic goal is for each black belt to publish once per year to ensure they are utilizing their skills and the organization realizes return on this investment.

Measure of success. There are several ways to determine whether or not a black belt has successfully mastered change management or is still learning the basics. Seven simple steps will help an organization determine whether black belts’ successes are basic or mastery level.

The first step in measuring black belt success is ensuring the candidate has passed the rigorous multiweek course requirements and performed successfully on the exam. Next, the black belt should complete a successful project within one year from exam completion tied to the course work with significant results, including cost savings that impact the organization’s fi-nancial statement, in order to receive black belt designation. After completing these basics, each black belt should publish this work, at minimum, in a reputable peer-reviewed journal.

A black belt who has mastered the craft and methodology will be able to compile a significant list of successful cross-func-tional projects outside of his or her professional comfort zone with significant results tied to clinical outcomes, service and cost savings. As these achievements amass, the black belt should publish at least yearly to celebrate team and organizational successes while enhancing program credibility

 Finally, the black belts who will become top leaders in the organization should be able to save at least three times their salary from successful projects within 18 to 36 months from receiving their black belt designation. This level of expertise separates the black belts who have truly mastered the craft from those who are still learning the basics.

Organizational success and long-term viability are dependent upon selecting black belt candidates that have mastery of clinical environments, healthcare operations and process improvement integration. Black belts who lack knowledge in any of these three areas will be limited in their ability to impact and drive change throughout the enterprise.

Companies should ensure internal black belt consultants achieve cross-functional results by applying their skill sets out-side their professional comfort zone. True change management experts will be able to achieve results in unfamiliar areas and business units via leading, teaching and advising cross-functional teams of leaders with various knowledge levels.

Don’t forget to publish the organization’s change management success stories. Publications are a costeffective means of celebrating team success and garnering credibility and recognition for the organization’s process improvement program.

Measure the success of each black belt candidate as they progress from the basics to mastery of change management and reward high performers. It is important to note that the change management masters (black belts) will more than likely be-come enterprise leaders and should be rewarded for excellence in change management outcomes.