Journal of Operations Management 21 (2003) 193–203 Six Sigma: a goal-theoretic perspective Kevin Linderman? , Roger G.

Schroeder1 , Srilata Zaheer2 , Adrian S. Choo3 Curtis L. Carlson School of Management, University of Minnesota, 3-150 CarlSMgmt Building, 32-19th Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55455, USA Received 18 April 2001; accepted 2 May 2002 Abstract Six Sigma is a phenomenon that is gaining wide acceptance in industry, but lacks a theoretical underpinning and a basis for research other than “best practice” studies. Rigorous academic research of Six Sigma requires the formulation and identi? ation of useful theories related to the phenomenon.

Accordingly, this paper develops an understanding of the Six Sigma phenomena from a goal theoretic perspective. After reviewing the goal theory literature, these concepts, when applied to Six Sigma, suggest some propositions for future research. This paper can help serve as a foundation for developing scienti? c knowledge about Six Sigma. © 2002 Elsevier Science B. V. All rights reserved.

Keywords: Quality; Theory; Interdisciplinary; Goals; Six Sigma 1. Introduction The implications of Six Sigma in industry are profound.For example, in 1999 General Electric Company (GEC, 1999) spent over half a billion in Six Sigma initiatives and received over two billion in bene? ts for the ? scal year (Pande et al. , 2000).

While Six Sigma has made a big impact on industry, the academic community lags behind in its understanding of Six Sigma. In one of the few academic papers, Schroeder (2000) provides a de? nition of Six Sigma and discusses the importance of academic research in this area. The question remains: what should aca? Corresponding author. Tel. : +1-612-626-8632. E-mail addresses: [email protected]

umn. edu (K. Linderman), [email protected] mn. edu (R. G. Schroeder), [email protected] umn.

edu (S. Zaheer), [email protected] umn.

edu (A. S. Choo). 1 Tel. : +1-612-624-9544. 2 Tel. : +1-612-624-5590. 3 Tel.

: +1-612-626-9723. demics research? Since theory about Six Sigma is lacking there is no basis for research other than “best practice” studies. Therefore, to conduct research on Six Sigma, the starting point must be the formulation and identi? cation of useful theories that are related to the Six Sigma phenomenon. Understanding Six Sigma requires consideration of the role of goals.

The name Six Sigma suggests a goal (3. 4 defects per million opportunities (DPMO)).In addition, the improvement of rational systems (Scott, 1987) is governed by both knowledge and motivation. Without knowledge, improvement only occurs through incidental or implicit learning, that is, by chance events that are rarely understood. In Six Sigma, the creation of knowledge occurs through intentional or explicit learning that employs formal improvement methods.

Intentional learning requires regulation of actions taken by organizational members. Goals serve as regulators of human action by motivating the actions of organizational members. Thus, improvement goals motivate organizational 272-6963/02/$ – see front matter © 2002 Elsevier Science B. V. All rights reserved. PII: S 0 2 7 2 – 6 9 6 3 ( 0 2 ) 0 0 0 8 7 – 6 194 K. Linderman et al. / Journal of Operations Management 21 (2003) 193–203 members to engage in intentional learning activities that create knowledge and make improvements.

Goal theory is well developed in the behavioral literature. It speci? es conditions under which goals can be easily achieved or are found to be dif? cult or unattainable. For example, goal theory states that goals which are clearly speci? ed and measured result in higher performance than fuzzy or “do-best” goals.Since goal theory is well-established in the management literature, it can play a signi? cant role in understanding quality management in general, and Six Sigma in particular.

Miner (1980) rated goal theory “high” in both criterion validity and usefulness in application. Pinder (1984) said, “goal theory has demonstrated more scienti? c validity to date than any other approach on motivation . . . Moreover, the evidence indicates that it probably holds more promise as a motivational tool for managers than any other approach”. This paper develops an understanding of the Six Sigma phenomenon from a goal-theoretic perspective.

It begins with a brief introduction to the Six Sigma methodology in order to establish a basis of de? nition and a point of departure. Then an examination of the goal theory literature provides the foundation for propositions about how Six Sigma is related to goal theory. The paper wraps up by providing conclusions and future research directions.

2. Six Sigma Six Sigma is a concept that was originated by Motorola Inc. in the USA in about 1985. At the time, they were facing the threat of Japanese competition in the electronics industry and needed to make drastic improvements in their quality levels (Harry and Schroeder, 2000).Six Sigma was a way for Motorola to express its quality goal of 3. 4 DPMO where a defect opportunity is a process failure that is critical to the customer). Motorola set this goal so that process variability is ±6 S.

D. from the mean (Breyfogle et al. , 2001, p. 39). They further assumed that the process was subject to disturbances that could cause the process mean to shift by as much as 1. 5 S. D. off the target (Montgomery, 2001, p.

23). Factoring a shift of 1. 5 S. D. in the process mean then results in a 3. 4 DPMO (see Montgomery p.

24 and Breyfogle et al. , 2001, p. 40).This goal was far beyond normal quality levels and required very aggressive improvement efforts. For example, 3 sigma results in a 66,810 DPMO or 93.

3% process yield, while Six Sigma is only 3. 4 DPMO and 99. 99966% process yield (these computations assume a 1. 5 S. D.

shift in the process mean). Fig. 1 shows the relationship between DPMO and Process Sigma assuming the normal distribution. Not all processes should operate at the Six Sigma level. The appropriate level will depend on the Fig. 1.

Defect rate (DPMO) versus Process Sigma Level. K. Linderman et al. / Journal of Operations Management 21 (2003) 193–203 195 trategic importance of the process and the cost of the improvement relative to the bene? t. If a process is at the two or three sigma level, it will be relatively easy and cost effective to reach the four sigma level.

However, to reach ? ve or Six Sigma will require much more effort and more sophisticated statistical tools. The effort and dif? culty increases exponentially as the Process Sigma increases. Ultimately, the return on investment for the improvement effort and the strategic importance of the process will determine whether the process should be improved and the appropriate target sigma level as a goal.Six Sigma has not been carefully de? ned in either the practitioner or academic literature (Hahn et al.

, 1999). This has resulted in some confusion, since each author provides a different de? nition. In an attempt to develop the concepts and principles underlying Six Sigma, the following de? nition is offered: Six Sigma is an organized and systematic method for strategic process improvement and new product and service development that relies on statistical methods and the scienti? c method to make dramatic reductions in customer de? ned defect rates.This de? nition highlights the importance of improvements based on the customer’s de? nition of a defect. A key step in any Six Sigma improvement effort is determining exactly what the customer requires and then de? ning defects in terms of their “critical to quality” parameters.

From a goal setting perspective, Six Sigma advocates establishing goals based on customer requirements, not on internal considerations. Using customer requirements is certainly not something that is unique to Six Sigma, but it is important from a goal theory perspective.Six Sigma also uses unique metrics including Process Sigma measurements, critical-to-quality metrics, defect measures and 10? improvement measures (Hahn et al. , 1999; Harry, 1998; Hoerl, 1998). One of the ? rst steps in the improvement process is to measure the current Process Sigma. This is done by de? ning current process defects in customer terms (critical to quality metrics), these measures are converted to DPMO and then to the current Process Sigma. As a rough guideline, the 10? improvement rule is often used to establish the goal for defect reduction. For example, if the baseline data from the process has DPMO of 66,000, then the 10? rule sets the improvement goal at 6600 DPMO.

Use of these unique metrics helps to clarify goals and make them explicit. However, sometimes baseline data may not exist for the process, as often occurs with a new process or product, which makes it dif? cult to establish explicit goals. As the above de? nition notes, Six Sigma uses a structured method, whether the task is process improvement or new product design. In the case of process improvement, the method is patterned after the plan, do, check, act (PDCA) cycle (Shewhart, 1931, 1939).

One popular method uses de? ne, measure, analyze, improve and control (DMAIC) as the ? ve steps in process improvement. A somewhat different set of steps called Design for Six Sigma is used for radical or incremental product design (de? ne, measure, analyze, design and verify). Whatever method is chosen, however, it is important that the method be carefully followed and a solution not offered until the problem is clearly de? ned.

Data and objective measurement is critical at each step of the method. The standard statistical quality tools are incorporated into the structured method as needed.However, Six Sigma guidelines demonstrate an integration of proper tools at each step of the method (Breyfogle, 1999; Ishikawa, 1985; Kume, 1985, 1995; Hoerl, 1998). This careful integration of tools with the methods is unique to Six Sigma. Six Sigma uses a variety of improvement specialists to achieve its goals, often referred to as Black Belts, Master Black Belts, Green Belts and Project Champions. Full-time Black Belts lead improvement projects and typically receive 4 weeks of training. Master Black Belts receive even more training, and generally serve as instructors and internal consultants.

Green Belts are part-time improvement specialists that receive less training since they provide supporting roles on the improvement projects. Finally, Project Champions who identify strategically important projects for the improvement teams and provide resources, typically receive an orientation to Six Sigma rather than detailed training. As can be seen, intensive and differentiated training is an integral part of the Six Sigma approach. Now that Six Sigma has been de? ned the main tenets of goal theory are considered which forms a basis for understanding Six Sigma. 196 K.

Linderman et al. / Journal of Operations Management 21 (2003) 193–203 3. Six Sigma and goal theory Goal theory provides a theoretical basis for understanding the relationship between goal setting and goal achievement.

Numerous concepts have been developed in the literature to understand this relationship (Locke and Latham, 1990). This research will focus on the well-established concepts that relate to Six Sigma in developing a goal-theoretic perspective of Six Sigma. 3. 1. Goals and performance Research in goal theory shows a strong relationship between goal setting and performance.For example, White and Locke (1981) studied a multinational company and found goal setting correlated with performance for managers, clerical workers, and professionals.

Burton (1984) also reported that swimmers who received training in goal setting signi? cantly improved their performance over swimmers who did not receive training. These studies illustrate the importance that goal setting has on performance in a wide range of settings. Numerous studies also reveal a positive relationship between goal dif? culty and performance.Locke (1967) showed that the performance of subjects with hard goals were 250% higher than those with easy goals.

Locke et al. (1990) reviewed over 170 research papers on goal dif? culty and performance. They found a positive relationship between goal dif? culty and performance in over 90% of the articles reviewed. Locke and Latham (1990) summarize the research on goal dif? culty and performance and conclude that in general dif? cult goals result in increased levels of performance, however, a drop in performance occurs if goals become too dif? cult. That is, dif? cult goals increase performance, however, if they become too dif? ult performance can actually decrease. This suggests the importance of maintaining a balance between setting challenging goals while at the same time making goals attainable. Goal speci? city is also important to performance. Goal theory suggests that speci? c goals result in higher levels of performance than vague non-quantitative goals such as do-best goals (Locke et al.

, 1990)— do-best goals are goals that are implied by the task given to the subject or where the subject is told to do the best that they can. Several meta-analyses con? rm a positive relationship between speci? challenging goals as opposed to vague goals (Chilester and Grigsby (1984), Tubbs (1986), Mento et al. (1987), and Wood et al. (1987)). Six Sigma is known for employing challenging process improvement goals.

Practitioners have noted that, “A clear goal is the center piece of Six Sigma. It is an extremely challenging goal, but still believable, unlike past campaigns for zero defects” (Pande et al. , 2000). Prior quality thought leaders have been critical of the use of arbitrary goals (Deming, 1986). However, the tenets of goal theory suggest that goals can play an effective role in quality management.Goal setting often begins in the early phases of a Six Sigma improvement project, when data is collected from the process.

This allows for the computation of baseline process performance measures like DPMO and/or Process Sigma, which becomes the basis for establishing explicit goals. Sometimes quantitative data may not exist for the process, as often occurs with a new process, and setting speci? c quantitative goals becomes more challenging. In this situation managers should seek out alternative methods to establish explicit goals, possibly using ? ancial or customer satisfaction data to set goals rather than relying on do-best goals. The role of explicit goals and performance suggests the following proposition. Proposition 1a. Six Sigma projects that employ speci? c challenging goals result in a greater magnitude of improvement than projects that do not employ speci? c challenging goals. Fig. 2 illustrates the relationship between speci? c challenging goals employed in Six Sigma and performance.

The effects of training and goal commitment shown in Fig. 2 are discussed below. As noted earlier, when goals become too dif? ult a drop-off in performance can occur (Erez and Zidon, 1984). If individuals view the goal as unattainable they will often exert little effort, which decreases performance. Six Sigma sets very challenging goals, which may run the risk of being viewed as unattainable. However, training in process improvement tools and methods mitigates the dif? culty of attaining challenging improvement goals. As a result, training reduces the uncertainty involved in achieving challenging K. Linderman et al.

/ Journal of Operations Management 21 (2003) 193–203 197 Fig. 2. Explicit Six Sigma goals and performance. mprovement goals and makes the goals more achievable.

This increases the commitment of organizational members in attaining the goals since they are now viewed as more “realistic” (Bandura, 1982, 1986). Six Sigma organizations provide extensive training programs in process improvement methods and tools (Hoerl, 2001). The extent of Six Sigma training reduces the uncertainty associated with improvement projects and increases the commitment of the organizational members. Fig.

2 indicates a relationship between training and goal commitment, which suggests the following proposition. Proposition 1b.Training in Six Sigma increases goal commitment.

Interestingly, Locke et al. (1989) found that speci? c goals also reduce performance variance. That is, speci? c quantitative goals tend to result in less deviation from the target level of performance than do-best goals. This is because goal speci? city reduces the interpretive latitude as to the intention of the goal.

When goals are vague, individuals have varying interpretations of when actual performance matches desired performance, resulting in an increased level of performance variability. In some Six Sigma projects it is dif? ult to get historical data to calculate a baseline DPMO or Process Sigma. In this case a target DPMO or Process Sigma cannot be determined for goal setting purposes. This suggests the following proposition. Proposition 1c. Six Sigma projects that do not have explicit goals result in more varied magnitudes of improvement than those with explicit improvement goals. Proposition 1c emphasizes the importance of obtaining baseline data to set explicit goals. Without speci? c goals, performance variability increases which fosters the chance of two types of errors.

Either not enough improvement occurs to suf? iently increase customer satisfaction, or improvement efforts exceed what is required to satisfy the customer. Both situations fail to obtain the optimal investment of time and effort in the improvement endeavor. This suggests the importance of collecting baseline data, and more broadly the importance of having a data oriented culture. 3.

2. Goals and task strategies Task strategies are methods or approaches to perform a task that involve creative innovation and conscious problem solving. Goal theory research suggests that individuals given a dif? cult goal often develop task strategies on their own.Buller and Bell (1986) found that miners were more likely to engage in quality-improving behaviors after being given quality goals. Campbell and Gingrich (1986) found that computer programmers with goals on a complex task often sought information from supervisors on how to go about writing the programs. That is, they sought out task strategies from their supervisors. Interestingly, some research indicates that speci? c hard goals can lead to poor task strategies. Earley et al.

(1989a) found that untrained subjects with do-best goals performed better than those with speci? c, hard goals.The untrained subjects with hard goals often switch strategies as compared to the subjects with do-best goals. This suggests that training can in? uence the quality of task strategies developed.

This is 198 K. Linderman et al. / Journal of Operations Management 21 (2003) 193–203 more important for complex tasks since they require more complex strategies. Kanfer et al. (1988) studied air traf? c controllers (complex task) and found that goals improved performance when they received training. In addition, they found that goals actually reduced performance when subjects did not receive training.Six Sigma organizations employ problem solving tools and structured improvement methods based on the scienti? c method. This comprehensive methodology takes the complex task of process improvement and breaks it down into elementary components, which in turn reduces task complexity.

As a result, it is essential that Six Sigma organizations properly use the methods and tools. Often improvement team members jump to conclusions without properly following all the steps in the improvement process. This suggests that Six Sigma leaders should identify mechanisms that promote proper application of the tools and methods.

One Six Sigma organization has a Project Evaluation System (Eassa, 2000) that performs a post project review of improvement projects to assess appropriate use of tools and methods. In addition, several Six Sigma organizations use computerized tracking software, such as personal excellence tool/management excellence tool (PETMET), which monitors the steps and tools used in the improvement project. These types of mechanisms promote the proper application of the tools and methods that help reduce task complexity (see Fig.

2).The use of the structured method suggests the following proposition, since goals tend to work better for less complex tasks (Wood et al. , 1990). Proposition 2a. The use of a structured method increases performance on complex tasks. Six Sigma organizations also provide extensive training to insure proper use and understanding of the methodology. This further reduces the task complexity involved in complex process improvement projects and promotes commitment from organizational members. Fig.

2 illustrates the moderating effect of training on performance.Most Six Sigma organizations also require employees to work on improvement projects while they receive training. Training occurs in a hands-on fashion where instructors explain concepts followed by participants applying concepts to their improvement projects. This training format ensures that participants not only understand concepts of Six Sigma (declarative knowledge), but also understand how to apply these concepts (procedural knowledge). Knowing how to apply Six Sigma concepts makes certain that employees can handle challenging problems encountered in improvement projects.This mode of training is consistent with goal theory, since it ensures that employees know how to apply the concepts of Six Sigma to complex problems, and suggests the following proposition. Proposition 2b. Employees that receive Six Sigma training perform better on complex tasks than employees that do not receive training.

However, training is not effective for simple tasks; in fact Earley et al. (1989) noted that training actually decreases performance for simple tasks. As a result, training may not create substantial bene? ts for simple improvement tasks, sometimes called the “low hanging fruit”.Six Sigma organizations investing in extensive training on improvement specialist should focus their improvement efforts on complex challenging problems. The amount of training received should be proportional to the degree of involvement in complex tasks. Organizations that provided a differentiated level of training for Black Belts, Green Belts, and Project Champions reinforces this perspective. In contrasts, other quality management programs deliver standardized training to everyone—one size ? ts all. Standardized training is consistent with the notion that quality is everyone’s job.

Goal theory may provide an alternative perspective, consider the following proposition. Proposition 2c. Differentiated training based on the degree of involvement in the complexity of the improvement tasks increases performance. These propositions suggest the importance of instituting training in process improvement tools and methods.

Organizational leaders must be aware of the importance of training, and the effect it has on goal setting. Furthermore, training becomes more important as the complexity involved in the improvement activities increases. K. Linderman et al.

Journal of Operations Management 21 (2003) 193–203 199 3. 3. Goal and commitment Goal commitment refers to the determination to reach a goal or resistance to changing a goal at a later time. This differs from goal acceptance, which refers to an initial agreement with the goal (Locke and Latham, 1990). Erez and Zidon (1984) found a signi? cant drop-off in performance as goal commitment declined in response to more dif? cult goals. Their research showed a dramatic drop-off in performance when goal commitment became negative on a bipolar scale (positive indicates acceptance and negative indicates rejection).Wright (1989) concluded that commitment moderates goal level dif? culty and performance. That is, setting dif? cult goals does not improve performance much when commitment is low.

However, they ? nd that goal level does in? uence performance when commitment is high. Research on commitment suggests that organizational change efforts require a high level of commitment from organizational members. Therefore, it is desirable to understand the factors that promote or deter commitment. Researchers have identi? ed some of the following factors: authority, peer in? ence, public awareness, incentives, rewards, and punishment (Locke and Latham, 1990). Implementation of Six Sigma is often driven from the senior leadership of the organization. The CEOs at Motorola, AlliedSignal, GEC, and Seagate Technology all led the Six Sigma implementation efforts. GEC and Seagate Technology made it very clear to employees that continued success and promotion within the organization required their endorsement and support of Six Sigma. In fact, Jack Welch created a mandate for Six Sigma by telling his management team to “get on board, or get out” (Slater, 1999).

Organizational leaders provide a critical role in building goal commitment (Latham and Lee, 1986; Latham and Saari, 1979; Salanik, 1979; Latham and Yukl, 1975; Oldham, 1975). Organizations not able to secure a mandate from senior leadership will have a dif? cult time implementing Six Sigma, which suggests the following proposition (also see Fig. 2). Proposition 3a. Goal commitment increases with a mandate from senior leadership. The use of peer in? uence also contributes to commitment of Six Sigma by the organizational members (Matsui et al. 1987; Bandura, 1986; Shalley et al.

, 1986). Champions, Black Belts, and Green Belts serve as role models and in? uence peers, which contribute to increasing the commitment level for Six Sigma goals. The following proposition indicates the importance of improvement specialists, and further suggests that organizations that do not use improvement specialists will have a lower level of goal commitment. Proposition 3b. Improvement specialists (Champions, Master Black Belts, and Black Belts) serve as role models for Six Sigma improvement efforts that increase goal commitment.Incentives and rewards also contribute to commitment of goals (Campbell, 1984, Huber, 1985a, Wright, 1989, Howard et al. , 2001). Black Belts at GEC and Seagate Technology get larger bonuses and more attractive promotions for their efforts in ful? lling the Six Sigma goals of the organization.

Proposition 3c. Organizations that have special rewards and incentives for Six Sigma professionals have a higher level of goal commitment than those that do not. 3. 4. Goals and effort, persistence and direction Several studies indicate that goals regulate effort expenditure.Bryan and Locke (1967) found that subjects with speci? c, hard goals worked at a faster rate than those with a do-best goal. Earley and Perry (1987) conducted a business simulation and found that speci? c hard goals led to higher ratings of effort than do-best goals.

In general dif? cult goals result in greater expenditure of effort, which in turn increases performance to the point of diminishing returns. It follows that when Six Sigma improvement projects use speci? c quantitative improvement goals like a challenging DPMO reduction or Process Sigma improvement, more effort will be expended.This suggests the following proposition as illustrated in Fig. 3. Proposition 4a. Speci? c Six Sigma goals result in more team member effort than vague goals.

200 K. Linderman et al. / Journal of Operations Management 21 (2003) 193–203 Fig. 3. Mediating variables between Six Sigma goals and performance. Persistence is effort maintained over time. Huber (1985b) found that subjects with hard goals on a computer maze task worked longer to complete the task than subjects given do-best goals.

Hall et al. (1987) found that students compressed a hand dynamometer longer if they had speci? , hard goals than do-best goals. Huber and Neale (1987) found that subjects engaged in a bargaining task were less willing to compromise and thus held out losnger than subjects given a do-best goal. This research indicates that more challenging goals keep people working longer at tasks than other goals. This suggests that challenging goals used in Six Sigma motivate teams to work longer so that the desired results are obtained.

Fig. 3 illustrates the following proposition. Proposition 4b. Speci? c Six Sigma goals result in more team member persistence than vague goals.Effort and persistence must be directed toward some activity. Goals have two relatively automatic directional effects.

“First, they orient the individual toward goal-relevant activities and away from goalirrelevant ones. Second, they activate stored knowledge and skills that the individual possesses that are perceived relevant to the task” (Locke and Latham, 1990). Morgan (1985) found that students with study time goals actually spent more time studying than students who did not have study time goals. Rothkopf and Billington (1979) found that students without speci? c learning goals learned more irrelevant material han those with goals.

Students with goals had more direction in their study efforts than students without goals. They also found that students with speci? c learning goals learned material that was irrelevant to their learning goals less well than students who were not given learning goals. That is, goals provided students with a focal point to which they directed their learning efforts.

Six Sigma project goals such as a target Process Sigma or DPMO should focus process improvement team members on goal-relevant activities and direct them away from irrelevant activities.This may create a focal point where team members are focused on achieving the target improvement levels. Fig. 3 illustrates the following proposition. Proposition 4c. Speci? c Six Sigma goals increase team member direction on activities to accomplish improvement objectives than do-best goals.

The above propositions (4a–c) indicate the importance of Project Champions in setting explicit project improvement goals. This will result in more effort, persistence, and direction that in turn should increase performance. In addition, Project Champions should select critical projects to insure that improvement teams are “doing the right things”.Since goals create focal point, team members may not consider whether they are doing the “right things”. Instead they are focused on “doing things right” in order to accomplish their goals.

K. Linderman et al. / Journal of Operations Management 21 (2003) 193–203 201 4. Conclusions Six Sigma improvement projects often use explicit goals to motivate performance. These types of goals can create the illusion that goal setting is solely a technical issue, where managers simply set goals on the basis of the desired level of performance they want to achieve.

However, goal theory reveals that effective goal setting requires behavioral considerations. If goal setting were purely a technical issue, then setting dif? cult goals would always result in improved performance. Goal theory indicates that this is not the case. Goals perceived as too dif? cult by organizational members can result in lower levels of commitment, which in turn decreases performance. Goal theory illuminates the signi? cance of behavioral in? uences on goal setting, and more broadly suggests the importance of social and psychological considerations in understanding the Six Sigma phenomena.Organizational leaders must be aware that successful deployment of Six Sigma requires not only technical understanding, but also behavioral insight. Goals can also alter organizational members’ perceptions about the magnitude of change possible. Organizations often form perceptions about performance frontiers and how much improvement is possible.

Appropriate use of goals can alter organizational members perceptions of the performance frontier. For example, John Young, CEO of Hewlett Packard, set a goal of 10-fold improvements in hardware quality over the next decade in the early 1980’s (Cole, 1999).This goal was needed to shock employees out of their belief that HP was a quality leader and served to get them to question their basic ways of working and improving. Similarly, Six Sigma’s use of challenging goals helps alter organizational members’ perceptions of performance frontiers. Effective use of goals not only changes the behaviors of organizational members, but also alters their perceptions about how much change is possible.

Studying the Six Sigma phenomena from a goaltheoretic perspective also provides opportunities to develop more insights into goal theory.Previously, goal theory has not considered the role of structured improvement methods. Goal theory has been developed in the context of day-to-day management of organizations and routine decision making. This research hypothesizes that structured methods reduce task complexity, which in turn makes it easier to achieve performance objectives. In addition, training in structured improvement methods is required to achieve performance objectives.

The Goal theory literature could bene? t from a better understanding of how structured methods in? uence goals and performance.Our future research will focus on re? ning and testing the propositions in this paper. In addition, our theoretical lens (Amundson, 1998) for understanding Six Sigma can be expanded to integrate other management theories. In particular, it may be useful to understand Six Sigma from a Knowledge Management perspective.

This presents interesting questions about how Goal theory could be integrated with Knowledge Management to better understand the Six Sigma phenomena. Clearly, there are a wide variety of interesting research questions in Six Sigma.As practitioners continue to implement Six Sigma programs, it will be incumbent on academicians to provide well-grounded theories to explain and understand the phenomena.


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