Persuading Employees to Embrace Process Improvement

Nov 28, 2016
11 Min Read
Persuading Employees to Embrace Process Improvement

Persuading Employees to Embrace Process Improvement

For leaders who want to persuade teams to accept new processes, the answer may be in the kitchen.

In a study last year of 200 kitchens, Cornell University researchers found that those who left snack food and soft drinks out in the open were an average of 20 pounds heavier than their neighbors who kept only fresh food openly available.

This what-you-see-is-what-you-eat diet shows that by changing circumstances, you can change behavior, which is key for getting teams to accept changes such as process improvement, says James C. Crimmins, author of “7 Secrets of Persuasion: Leading-Edge Neuromarketing Techniques to Influence Anyone.

“The lesson to executives is to think about the ways they can change the circumstances so that any new process for a team is the most natural – the easiest – thing to do,” he says.

Crimmins says it’s often easier to get people to change what they do rather than what they feel. So, if a team balks at new processes, don’t think, “How can I get them to change their minds?” but rather, “How can I get them to act differently?” he says.

“If you look at the kitchen experiment, these people probably all had the same attitude toward soft drinks – but they managed to change the behavior simply by changing the circumstances,” he says.

Adele Sweetwood is senior vice president of global marketing and shared services at SAS and author of “The Analytical Marketer: How to Transform Your Marketing Organization.”

As someone who is well acquainted with change initiatives and trying to get employees to embrace new ideas and processes, she says that such efforts require a “guiding coalition” to be successful.

“If you bring those impacted into the conversation, identify what they will need to be successful, and empower them with the tools and training, they will be more likely to engage,” she says. “As leaders, we spend a lot of time identifying areas for improvement, defining the details and then devising the solution. By the time we share the solution or change, we have had the time to absorb it, process it and support it. Give your employees that same luxury. Don’t just spring it on them – get them to design it.”

Crimmins adds that getting a commitment from employees that they will change is often easier than getting a behavior change. “But once you have that commitment, the behavior change is a lot easier to arrive at,” he says.

Sweetwood says that when her marketing organization was forced to rethink itself in order to take advantage of new capabilities brought about through data and analytics, it was important to help employees understand how the change would empower them.

That meant asking team members to share stories of how data analytics helped them do their jobs better or faster and what they were learning from the changes, she says.

Crimmins says that helping people understand how a change can benefit them is a powerful strategy and can help change attitudes – another way to get them on board with a new idea or process.

For example, if you’re implementing new software, you can explain how it will help employees be more efficient.

“But don’t just stop there,” Crimmins says. “Talk about how it will help them get their work done faster so they can then go home and be able to go to a child’s soccer game.”

Help your team overcome inefficient and manual processes. Give them the Process Improvement Playbook: Overcoming Manual Processes in the Workplace.

Process Improvement Playbook

This is called “laddering it up,” which means you lead people to see the ultimate benefit: the new software will help them spend more time with their children and be better parents. “I’ve never found a case where this (laddering) doesn’t work in changing someone’s attitude,” he says. “You just keep asking yourself: ‘What makes this attractive’ to someone?”

Often, when a team is being asked to change or adopt new processes, it means that the entire organization is going through similar changes. That means upheaval is being experienced at many levels, and there is often more cross-functional collaboration involved. Such changes can add an extra layer of anxiety for employees and is something that leaders must address.

Sweetwood says one of the challenges with such cross-collaboration during her organization’s change process was “teams or individuals not fully understanding their dependency on one another.”  Another challenge was ensuring objectives were aligned and there was a unified, customer-centric view. They learned that “when you step back and take the view from the customer experience perspective, the individual roles or channels don’t matter—it is the sum of the experience that does.”

Another way that Sweetwood says her organization helped employees from different areas mesh better was using a common language – something she admits was a struggle at times.

But when her team needed to talk to the sales organization about whether a particular campaign was making an impact, “we talked numbers” because “sales people talk numbers.”

“Sales has a revenue number and a set of metrics related to customer retention. In turn, we measure the success of our marketing efforts based on the impact we have on building a sales pipeline, driving revenue, and influencing renewals,” she says.

Avoid frontal assaults

In Robert Cialdini’s popular book, “Influence: Science and Practice,” it was determined that people tend to go along with their peers when making decisions. Cialdini outlined “weapons of influence” such as: wanting to return favors; wanting to be seen as committed and consistency in what we say and do; looking to peers or authority to determine what’s acceptable and desirable; being easily persuaded by those we like; and desiring what is rare.

“People often draw conclusions from who is doing what, rather than facts and figures,” Crimmins says. “We go by who is using it and who is making that choice. So, it’s possible to say a lot more about a new process by talking about the people who have adopted it. “

But what if some team members resist change even if there are early adopters? The biggest mistake, Crimmins says, would be asking why.

“They couldn’t tell you, even if they wanted to,” he says.

Decisions are heavily influenced by an automatic, nonconscious mental system. However, if someone is asked why he resists a new process, for example, he may readily provide an answer – even though brain research shows it probably is not the true reason, Crimmins says.

The best way to unearth why someone won’t accept a new process, for example, is to ask more indirect questions, he says.

By asking resistant employees to talk about early adopters of a new process, their own misgivings may soon become apparent. They may talk about how the new adopters like the latest bright, shiny thing and don’t really do their homework to see if it’s the right fit. That may reveal that resistant workers didn’t get the right training and so feel rushed into using a product or process they don’t really understand.

“People don’t intentionally mislead us. They just are convinced they know why they do what they do when they really have no idea,” Crimmins says. “Remember that bad information is worse than no information.”


Process Improvement Playbook  - Overcoming Manual Processes in the Workplace


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