Why I Don’t Like Black Belts

Kurt Kohorst serves as Senior Vice President of Operations Advisory at ReSource Pro. A change agent with a track record of success, he leads our team of Operations Consultants who help clients align their operations to drive profitable growth.


Black belts are great when it comes to martial arts, or you just need to keep your pants from falling off…but I’m not talking about judo or fashion choices here. I’m talking about Six Sigma Black Belts and why I don’t like them. It’s nothing personal, I myself have a Six Sigma Black Belt certification. My problem with black belts is that there are no uniform standards that define what a Six Sigma Black Belt should know or what practical work experience they have. So, when “Black Belt” is listed on someone’s resume or on their LinkedIn profile, it could mean a lot… or nothing… as it relates to their expertise.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t experts in operations management that hold this designation and can provide tremendous benefit – there are. The point I’m trying to make is that organizations are better served by spreading the practices of the Lean Management System throughout the business and to the front line, rather than focusing on certifying Six Sigma ‘experts’ and having them rigidly enforce the methodology. My experience at two different insurance companies sheds a little light on this:

Insurance Carrier #1

The first company was ramping up a Six Sigma program, a lot of time and resources were spent on formal training and prioritizing projects. If a project got through the ‘Analyze’ phase of DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control), but was projected to return less than $250K in hard dollar benefit, it was canceled. For some projects this took months to get this far and unfortunately, those same cancelled projects left business leaders with an unsolved problem!

Insurance Carrier #2

At another carrier, their approach was a bit different and Lean oriented. They focused on equipping frontline Underwriting managers and their teams with the structure, tools and daily practices to drive continuous improvement. At the same time leaders at all levels of the company were taught to manage differently to encourage those in the organization to build their problem solving ‘muscles’, managers roles changed from ‘firefighter to coach’. Results were faster, longer lasting and it enlisted everyone in the effort.


Lean and Six Sigma methodologies are most effective when they become a part of a culture of continuous improvement. At ReSource Pro, we have a program call AdvanceIt! to promote innovation and improvement. Throughout the organization, employees are encouraged to come up with process improvements and innovations. And they are recognized and rewarded for it. Front line staff, those that execute daily processes and workflows and face the challenges they bring, are often the best people to come up with solutions. It’s also a great way to engage employees and identify those with great potential.


I recommend starting small and from where you are currently at – once you have achieved some wins you can consider expanding the effort to other teams, and getting broader leadership support. If you want to learn more, a fun read that illustrates the basic concepts is “Everything I Know About Lean I Learned in First Grade” by Robert Martichenko. You can also find many other books, blogs and information about in-person learning opportunities online. Maybe you decide you need help from an experienced consultant – select one that focuses on providing your firm the experience, knowledge, tools, change management and improvement plans for immediate and longer-term benefit.

Improvement generally means change, and change is difficult even when it leads to improvement. It’s not just leaders that should be involved in this process, frontline employees also need to have ownership…and not just to get them on board. They’re the ones doing the executing and they’ll have significant input on how things are done, what isn’t working and how to fix it. Continuous improvement is about culture and enlisting everyone in the process – not about credentials and titles.