Process excellence is about "hearts, minds and souls": Interview with Kraft’s Vice President of Strategic Business Process Transformation

Why there's no such thing as resistance to change

Process excellence begins with the "hearts and minds" of people rather than the process, says Rajan Nagarajan, Vice President of Strategic Business Process Transformation at Kraft foods. In this PEX Network interview, Nagarajan discusses how Kraft Foods engages its people in process transformation and why he believes there no such thing as resistance to change.

Watch the original video interview here: Kraft Foods: Making process transformation part of the company’s DNA

Please note: this transcript has been edited for readability.

PEX Network: There’s always talk in process improvement that it’s not just about the act of improving processes that’s important, it’s really about changing the hearts and minds of people. Do you find that to be true in your work at Kraft Foods?

Rajan Nagarajan: Definitely. I think it’s hearts, minds and souls at the end of the day. In fact, I would almost go to the extreme of saying that unless you worry about changing the hearts, souls and minds, it’s going to be very difficult to achieve sustainable change.

PEX Network: How do you achieve that? How do you make process excellence, or process improvement part of your company’s DNA?

Rajan Nagarajan: I think you have to start with defining a compelling need on where you’re trying to take the company. For us it was simple because we consider ourselves a $19 billion start-up. We pride ourselves in saying that we want to operate with the "spirit of a start-up and the soul of a power house", as our CEO would say. Once you do that, then you have to engage people, and the engagement process actually begins with the hearts and minds more than the actual process work itself.

You have to connect the dots on how the way they work is going to become easier if we did this, the way to collaborate will change, and eventually, the way we run our business and produce those positive results will improve. So, you have to connect those dots to engage the hearts, souls and minds.

PEX Network: So it’s not just saying we’re improving you and we’ll let you know when we’re done?

Rajan Nagarajan: You cannot do that, ever. At the end of the day, it’s the people that make the difference, and they have to be engaged in the journey. So you think of it as a journey and you say to yourself that the engagement of the people on the journey is what is going to make the difference at the end of the day.

PEX Network: I wonder if we could kind of go through a more practical example?

Rajan Nagarajan: If you look at any complex organisation, there are a lot of initiatives that are in motion. You will notice that companies that have not achieved a high level of maturity in their process thinking generally struggle with aligning those initiatives to a common goal.

That struggle is evident when you walk around on the floor, you will notice that many people are frustrated, your dollars are not spent on the right things, and you are not able to explain with conviction on why certain initiatives need to be stopped, and others need to be started.

On the other hand, in companies that have achieved a high level of maturity in the process journey you will notice that they are having fun in what they are doing, and they are having fun even if their project is one that happens to be stopped for some reason because they’re able to see the higher order goal of what the company is trying to do.

I was at a conference where I met a lady who founded a medical company, and I went to her office and I saw something very interesting. She had posted her vision on the wall, and the vision still reverberates in my mind, because it said first goal, it said treat your customer right, compete to collaborate, have fun, and make money.

When you kind of translate those four things, you will notice that beneath the covers, the reason they are able to do that is because they are thinking about process transformation. You cannot achieve those four things if you don’t worry about process transformation.

PEX Network: So it permeates everything, you mean?

Rajan Nagarajan: It permeates everything, yes.

PEX Network: But I imagine you’re always going to encounter people who are resistant to change, and resistant to this new sort of mentality. How do you find it works to deal with people that are resistant to change?

Rajan Nagarajan: We actually have a very different philosophy towards that. I believe in the philosophy of positive intent. I think inherently there are no resistors, to be honest with you. I think that typically the reason you perceive resistance is because you have not been able to do a good job of explaining to them the journey.

So if you do your change management right, you can actually harness that positive intent very quickly. I truly and sincerely believe that 99% of the employees in any company have no desire to resist change. More often than not, the reason you perceive that is because truly they haven't understood their role in it, and they haven't understood the milestones on their journey.

PEX Network: So it’s really up to you to communicate that.

Rajan Nagarajan: Yes.

PEX Network: It almost sounds like one of the roles of a process professional is to be a process evangelist, if you will. What are your thoughts on how you get across that passion for process, and really communicate the benefits?

Rajan Nagarajan: I think I would continue to use that word, process evangelist, and I think every organisation needs a few, and you need to build that evangelist network. Somebody asked me earlier, what are the characteristics of a process evangelist?

I had to think about it, but I think there are three things that come to mind. The first one is you need to pick people who have the right attitude – that’s most important. They don’t need to know Six Sigma, they don’t need to know Lean, but they need to have the right attitude.

The second one is they need to be very passionate about change. At the end of the day it’s about thinking differently, it’s about doing things differently, it’s about behaving differently.

The third one is an unwavering desire to say that the opportunity to improve what we are doing is so great that I'm going to work at it, even if it means I am going to fail at it. So if you get people with those three attributes, you need to spread that slowly.

It’s a contagious fever. That’s how we did it. We picked a handful of people and then you just kind of build that informal network and you identify people with those three attributes and you just make it happen.