Peer Pressure and Other Techniques For Influencing Change Across All Organizational Levels

Erik Gillet
Contributor: Erik Gillet
Posted: 05/18/2016


“Successful projects have great stakeholder buy in at the top, at the middle and at the floor level,” observes Erik Gillet, Global Functional Excellence Lead at UBS. “I spend a lot of time […] with the teams explaining that they shouldn’t just update their stakeholders but instead they should work on making sure these projects are owned by the business.”

In this interview, Gillet talks strategies to influence at different levels of the organization, offers up a couple of key tactics and even consults his crystal ball to look at the future of the industry.

PEX Network:  One of the challenges that a lot people cite with process excellence is the difficulty in influencing at so many different levels of an organization; you’ve got the top management down to the shop floor and they’ve got very different concerns.  What do you typically find works to get that buy in at different levels of the organization?

Erik Gillet: I don’t think there’s a magic recipe.  We spend a lot of time not so much doing stakeholder analysis but stakeholder planning. I spend a lot of time with my leads reviewing who stands where and what do we do about that. One of my favorite influencing strategies is peer pressure.  If you’ve found somebody who is supportive, who sees the benefit, then make sure that people talk within their informal group.

I spoke to someone at the IQPC PEX Week London conference who assessed about 40,000 projects. They found that the key to distinguishing success versus non-success in process excellence is the following: successful projects have great stakeholder buy in at the top, at the middle and at the floor level.  I spend a lot of time with the teams explaining that they shouldn’t just update their stakeholders . Instead they should work on making sure these projects are owned by the business.

With the very senior management it’s relatively easy because they have a big idea and you help them to drive their strategy.  At the floor level it’s much more a discussion around do you have ideas how to improve, how would you do it if you could be "king" or "queen" for a day?  Middle management I often find is a real challenge because typically you work for a small group of them and then there are a lot of them in larger transformation programs that you also want to adopt to change.

One of the things that we found works really well is to ask them is if this strategy or plan is executed how would it affect them and make a perfect day, so to speak.  What starts to happens then is that they articulate the strategy in their own words and relate it to their situation. That’s step one.  Then step two is trying to make sure that we align with that.  All of a sudden we’re not reporting our progress to them anymore but we’re actually driving their view forwards.  It doesn’t always work but that’s how we try to do it.

PEX Network:  Why do you think it’s so difficult to get people bought into process improvement in the first place?  It seems like something we should all be doing.

Erik Gillet: My view is people are not against change they are against being changed. That is a bit of a cliché, of course.  However, even though it’s a cliché it is a valid reason. Try to deal with that by asking questions and making sure with the questions you’ve steered them in the direction of becoming more the intellectual owner of the plan.

The second thing you shouldn’t underestimate is the level of fear in large transformations.  There’s risk to people in terms of status, team size, maybe even a concern about whether they can operate in the new environment.  So you have to ask questions to get to the bottom of that and make sure you give people a sense of confidence that you’re helping them with the way forward and addressing those concerns too.

PEX Network:  Speaking more generally about the view towards process in an organization are you seeing any signs that organization are starting to understand the value of process and process improvement?

Erik Gillet: Yes, when I talk to a lot of peers, I get the sense we’re moving from doing projects to driving transformation.  I think specifically where we are positioned at the moment within my larger team we’re getting requests to redesign target operating models. We talk about digitalization and how we position ourselves as the gatekeeper to help the business assess and target where the biggest opportunities lie.

I don’t think that our practice is alone; a lot of the peers that I talk to are in similar positions.  So after a few years in this profession we’re starting to mature.

PEX Network:  What do you think is driving that?  Why do you think those changes - the digitalization agenda and the fact that there’s a lot more digital disruption happening – are driving this transition?

Erik Gillet: Change and business improvement are becoming disciplines in themselves now in my view; think about off-shoring, digitalization, coming up with new ways of doing things. The perceived or actual competition from internet start-ups and emerging technical capabilities forces businesses to rethink their business model all the time because there’s always the possibility of a new entrant.I think there is probably an increasing need for change professionals rather than just people who help do the next project. 

PEX Network:  What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received about process excellence?

Erik Gillet: The best piece of advice that I got was that you should focus on the $50 million projects instead of the $50,000 projects. It made me think because a lot of our projects in the past as a black belt or what we now call the change leader are around how do I help this particular project and help the function that I’m supporting?  But thinking about 50 million is disruptive for many companies. That challenges you to be a bit bolder and challenging to the company you support or the organization you support.

PEX Network:  So the final question is where in your opinion does the process industry or process profession need to head next; what’s the next evolution of process excellence?

Erik Gillet: Let me get my crystal ball!  One of the things we do is look at also other industries.  We think, for instance, that automotive is much further ahead than we are so we’re looking at them as an example of how you would set up an improvement organization.  One of the observations is that in many of these advanced companies process excellence is not seen as an initiative. Instead it’s part of their strategy and sometimes even part of their board structure. Where we’re headed is a professionalizing of this function.  

Also, the emergence of the computer-assisted analytics capability is going to drive a lot of how we work in the future. Business performance and profitability will increasingly be customer data-driven versus customer relationship-driven.  I don’t know what that is going to look like but I can imagine that today we’re discussing already real time demands analysis, predictive demands analysis. We’ll probably end up organizing processes differently in the future where we are almost changing the way we change processes or we design processes to be able to cope with different types of demand much more quickly.

So today we’re looking at process standardization and maybe in the future we’re looking at defining responsive process change in a controlled way.

Erik Gillet
Contributor: Erik Gillet
Posted: 05/18/2016


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