Chalmers St – Consulting

Sustained Improvement is not by Chance

Sustainability of change and/or continuous improvement is a topic that comes up often. Leaders often worry that after our work is complete the changes will disappear as people revert back to old habits. Process engineers and change leaders desperately want the organization to change, but feel that with every step forward there are a few steps back. Fortunately for you, after years of experience, I have discovered all of the answers to these challenges. 


Okay, that was shameful click bait, just for my newsletter readers. You are here now, so you might as well keep reading. The truth is that much of my early career at Motorola did not formally address this problem. I do not want to misrepresent the culture of Motorola. We had great quality systems. Motorola was a company that was fully capable of sustaining changes. We knew that the “C” in DMAIC (control) was crucial. Motorola won the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award at least twice. We had a strong quality culture, but frankly, when changes failed we spent too little time thinking about what management controls were missing. We did not talk enough about management’s role of embedding sustainment in the line supervisors and front line employees. We did not think enough about how to teach and deeply embed sustainment in our culture. 


When Chalmers St. launched CI Mastermind we set out to address this challenge. Our White Belt curriculum intends to create great problem solvers, but this is not enough. We created the Yellow Belt curriculum to establish the management practices that are required to sustain change. Simply put, first we teach people how to see and fix problems (White Belt), then we teach people how to maintain the solution (Yellow Belt). It has worked well. Over the next few newsletters I will explain the approach we take and why we think this formula works. I will share gaps that we continue to see in our own work and how we plan to address these gaps. I will also share my thoughts on topics important to sustainment that go beyond technique. The first and probably most important is the role of top leadership in sustaining change. This is likely the number one issue brought to my attention by change agents. When I hear this I confirm its importance, but also tell change agents that successful sustainment requires more thought than simply stating, “it all starts with leadership.” Successful sustainment is more complex than this. These are the topics that I plan to cover. If you feel I am leaving anything out please respond to this post  or send me an email and I will try to add other relevant subjects. 


  1. The Role of Top Management – What they get wrong and what we get wrong about them.
  2. The Role of Middle Management – What they need for success. 
  3. Yellow Belt Techniques
  4. Culture – accountability
  5. Culture – integrity in the organization
  6. Routines and habits


Before I close, I want to explain a bit more about Yellow Belt techniques. First, after teaching Green Belt (GB) for years and observing countless project implementations it was clear that teaching a GB how to document and monitor their process was not enough. The GB needs to actually teach the process owner some management techniques. This is due to the classic and incorrect assumption that managers know how to manage by some innate characteristic. Or that because someone is good at their work, then they are also good at managing that work. We have known this to be completely wrong since the Training Within Industries (TWI) consultants studied manufacturing in World War II and yet I see it over and over again in industry. Plenty of people like their work but do not like working with people or overseeing people’s work. This means to be successful in sustaining change, the belt not only needs to correct the process, but they also need to correct the management of that process.The belt needs to put documentation and visuals in place and monitor processes. They also have to teach the process leader and the team how to use these process control artifacts. 


Our purpose with CI Mastermind’s Yellow Belt is to establish the change agent’s role in teaching the process leader how to manage the process. We specifically teach 5S, Leader Standard Work, Standard Work, and Managing for Daily Improvement. In future newsletters I will cover each of these and why we believe they are so important to sustaining change. 


High performing organizations value the exploration of new processes, techniques, and technology that drive improvement. Organizations invest time and money into new ideas, but without the proper sustainment activities the benefits are never achieved. Sustaining change goes beyond process control. It is about norms, culture, leadership, and management techniques. This is not successfully taught in a traditional classroom setting. Worse, the tasks the change agent needs to perform can be a bit dull and tedious. Nonetheless, without a focus on the techniques and the environment for sustaining change the investment in improvement fails to produce the ongoing return that is desired.