How to Change Processes and Influence People

Jeff Cole


Columnist Jeff Cole on tactics you can use to gain influence within your organization.

The ability to influence others has long been considered a key to success in any organization where there are humans.   (Machinery, on the other hand, doesn’t tend to resist a change because it dislikes your personality or suspects the other machines are getting paid more…)

We all use influence skills daily, ranging from steering your friends toward seeing a certain movie, to getting your kids to eat their broccoli, to persuading that guy down the hall who doesn’t report to you to start using your new process.  That said, it’s amazing that influence is not a required course in every college, or at least chapter one in every book about operational excellence.   You and I can have the best process in the world, but if the humans who have to use that process don’t do so, we’ve wasted our time.  

If people in an organization report to you, you have what is termed “legitimate power” to instruct them to do certain things.  That is all part of the employment agreement.    But, what do we do when we have to change the behaviors of people who don’t report directly to us?   The answers may surprise you.

Just like Lean Six Sigma is jam-packed with “hard” statistical tools (like ANOVA, DOE, t-tests, et. al.) and “soft” analytical  tools (like 5-whys and fishbone diagrams), so is your influence toolbox.   According to a University of Illinois study by Kevin Mullaney in 2011, and described in the 2013 Great Courses lecture series by Professor Kenneth Brown, influence tactics fall into two general camps:  Hard and soft tactics.   

This topic is broad and deep, but let’s simplify and explore:

Hard Tactics of Influence   

Hard tactics generally seek compliance and include pressure, coalitions, and legitimating.

  • Pressure:  This tactic includes making demands, frequent monitoring, over-communicating, and threats to get the behavior wanted (think bank robbery)
  • Coalitions:  Enlisting the support or aid of others to influence target audience actions (the TV series  Survivor and alliances)
  • Legitimating:  Establishing a legitimate base from which to make behavior requests (the guy from corporate HQ who ‘is here to help’)

Soft Tactics of Influence

Soft tactics are more sensitive to your audience’s autonomy of free choice and includes inspirational appeals, ingratiation, consultation, personal appeals, exchange, and rational persuasion.  

  • Inspirational Appeals:    This tactic takes an emotional appeal to making a change through appealing to a target audience’s values, desires, ideals  (televised pledge drives)
  • Ingratiation:   Leveraging the use of flattery and praise to drive audience behavior (think Eddie Haskell from Leave it to Beaver – “That’s a lovely dress Mrs. Cleaver”…)
  • Consultation:    Involving the target audience in suggesting or planning the change (a world of difference between having something done “to” you versus “with” you)
  • Personal Appeals:   Leveraging a personal friendship or relationship in asking a favor of a target person or audience (your best friend suggesting an alternate restaurant for a meal)
  • Exchange:   The person requesting the change offers something the target wants or offers to reciprocate later (if you eat that broccoli, there may be some ice cream in your near future…)
  • Rational Persuasion:   Using facts, evidence, and logic to support a request for a particular behavior (the typical corporate business case showing WIIFM – What’s In It For Me - and Burning Platform)

Some characterize these categories as “the carrot and stick” or “positive and negative”.      They are what they are however, and certainly context of a situation dictates the best method.   As you escalate up a scale of influence tactics, you hopefully start with softer techniques such as Consultation and Rational Persuasion.   Simply listening to people and their concerns often goes a great way toward building relationships and eliciting cooperation!  

Have fun this week spotting which tactics people use on you and which are your “go-to” tactics.     Now, as to that broccoli you haven’t eaten….