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ASCM Insights

Influence Change in Three Steps


If you’ve ever been responsible for leading change in an organization, you know how difficult it can be. Corporate change-management programs fail most often because of employee resistance and a lack of management support. No matter how important or inevitable, transformation is frequently viewed as negative and, therefore, fiercely resisted. Because change is a necessary part of life and business, it’s important to know some successful change management strategies to help the process go smoothly.

The key to a successful change-management programs is influence, according to “Influencer: The Science of Leading New Change.” After extensive research about both successful and unsuccessful change efforts, the authors found that influence is about changing hearts, minds and behavior to produce significant and sustainable results. In the book, the team lays out its Influence Change Model, which is simple and intuitive and can be scaled up or down to fit all different kinds of change.

The researchers assert that people do things because they want to (motivation) and because the can (ability). They leverage these two principles across three dimensions: personal, social and structural. Combined, these elements create six sources of influence: personal motivation, personal ability, social motivation, social ability, structural motivation and structural ability. With these influences in mind, the researchers suggest a three-part strategy for facilitating change:

Step one: Focus on goals with measurable results. Clarify what you want, why you want it and when you want it.  Vague goals lead to confusion and don’t inspire. Infrequent or nonexistent measures lead to wasted efforts. On the other hand, compelling goals focus on outcomes, not activities. They are specific, measurable and clearly time bound.

Recently, I’ve been working with a Fortune 500 company that was struggling to realize the benefits of its process-improvement projects. Three-quarters of projects didn’t have business cases, and the benefits of the remaining 25% were considered weak. Capturing reliable data was a chronic problem. Also, there were no repercussions if an employee didn’t meet metric goals. Given this lack of accountability, business units were reluctant to sign up for the process-improvement benefits. In addition, there was very little emphasis on measuring and tracking them once a project was complete and implemented.

To make the effort work, we needed a goal that was bold, understandable and easy for everyone to rally around. After considerable effort, we came up with: “By the end of 2021, we will realize 100% of the projected benefits for every funded project on an earnings per share basis.” There is no ambiguity there.  Expectations are set.

Step two: Find the vital behaviors that will help you reach your goals. Influencers focus on the few, key behaviors that drive results, keeping in mind that behaviors are actions, not results. Vital behaviors are like DNA: They tell you precisely what to do, how to do it and when to do it. Try these strategies — some of which stem from the authors’ recommendations — to identify these vital behaviors:

  • Focus on actions not actors. Finger-pointing causes people to defensive and makes the change-management effort even more challenging.
  • Consider the customer perspective. This can neutralize siloed thinking and determine what activities across the company can make or break the customer experience.
  • Look for crucial moments. Identify times when behavior puts success at risk. Crucial moments tell you when it’s time to act.
  • Spot culture busters. Watch for crucial moments that call for behaviors that challenge current cultural norms.

To determine what vital behaviors would enable our change-management effort at the Fortune 500 company, my team conducted several interviews with frontline workers, managers and leaders. The answers made it apparent that business cases were not being strictly enforced, data used in the business cases was inconsistent and often unreliable, and post-project benefits monitoring was limited. Based on these observations, we insisted on three vital behaviors:

  • Every project funding request must include a business case that quantifies all costs and benefits over a three-year horizon and describes the benefits of the selected key performance indicators. This created financial accountability for every project funding request.
  • Each business case must follow a common set of assumptions, such as wages of $25 an hour or a customer value of $600 in revenue per year; use common key financial metrics, such as return on investment and payback period; and share a best-case, worst-case and base-case scenario. This created consistency in business cases across all departments.
  • Business units must monitor and measure benefits on a monthly basis and submit the results to the finance team. This ensured that benefits would be realized once the project was completed.

Step three: Engage the six sources of influence. In business, individual influences apply to individual employees, social influences relate to business units or departments, and structural influences affect corporate processes and policies. All of these types of influence can be leveraged to drive change.

In my Fortune 500 company example, we analyzed each of these influences and mapped them to specific behaviors that could help us implement the benefits-realization program:

  1. For personal motivation, we had to help workers love what they hated — or at least do what they didn’t want to do. Some employees told us they should not have to work on business cases because they were not part of the finance department. To convince them otherwise, we explained that they could learn valuable, transferrable skills by participating in the process.
  2. For personal ability, we offered training to give all employees the knowledge and skills they needed to participate in the project. In some cases, we also simplified the project to boost efficiency. And we made sure workers had the right tools and data to be successful.
  3. At the social motivation level, we made sure executives, managers and other employees were encouraging the right types of behavior and discouraging the wrong actions. Specifically, we decided to require a business unit sponsor to sign off on every business case.
  4. Effective social ability influence required breaking down silos. We often heard that teams were too busy firefighting to take on new tasks. In other cases, some departments pointed fingers at other departments, saying they were not receiving enough support. To solve this, we tasked the finance team with providing a common set of business drivers and assumptions that the business units could use to more easily create the business cases. We also made sure the finance team provided analysts with appropriate insights for their business cases.
  5. Structural motivation required change at the company-wide level. We tied benefits realization to performance evaluations and bonuses to set up a motivational structure.
  6. Lastly, we facilitated structural ability by creating a monthly cadence for monitoring and reporting on project progress.

In the end, we realized that it was surprisingly easy to build this roadmap for what seemed to be such a complex initiative. Once we had a solid change-management foundation, the change was easier, and success could soon follow. All we needed was a little positive influence.

About the Author

Peter J. Sherman, CSCP Managing Partner, Riverside Associates

Peter J. Sherman, CSCP, is managing partner at Riverwoods Associates, a process improvement training and consulting firm based in Atlanta. He is a certified Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt and previously served as lead instructor of Emory University's Six Sigma Certificate program. Sherman may be contacted at

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