Influencer QA

What Should We Do and How Do We Get Everyone To Do It?

Dear David,

How does the Influencer model relate to processes such as: PDCA/DMAIC Cycles, Quality Circles, Statistical Process Control, Continuous Improvement/Kaizen, Lean/Six Sigma, and other Quality-Related approaches to Process Improvement?


Dear Curious,

Welcome to the history of the Quality Movement! I’ve been lucky enough to work with many of the organizations at the forefront of this movement—Toyota, Ford, Mazda, Motorola, Xerox, and others—since the late 70s. My work has been mostly related to interpersonal skills, but it turns out these processes are also integral to quality improvement.

I think these processes help teams answer two important questions:

1. What should we do?
2. How do we get everyone to do it?

The first question focuses on process improvement; the second on influence.

PDCA/DMAIC Cycles: For those not already “in the know,” these initials stand for:

• PDCA = Plan, Do, Check, Act
• DMAIC = Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control

These processes are pretty similar. Each suggests a logical order to performance improvement initiatives, and each is intended to describe ongoing, continuous cycles of improvement. If you follow the steps in order, you should arrive at the answer to “What should we do?”

Quality Circles: Quality Circles were an early attempt to add Influence to the PDCA/DMAIC processes. The idea was to involve the people who were doing the work. If they were the ones who came up with the improvement idea, then they’d be more committed to “getting everyone to do it.”

These quality circles became the management fad of the early 80’s. Unfortunately, they were often imported into autocratic cultures that weren’t open to employees’ ideas, and so backfired.

Statistical Process Control (SPC): This is the approach that helped Japan conquer automobile manufacturing in the 90s. SPC focuses on how stable, predictable, and uniform a process can be and shows teams how to measure their consistency.

Before SPC, teams would achieve quality specs by producing 100 fuel injectors, and then throwing out the 20 that were out of spec. With SPC, teams could figure out how to make all 100 fit within the specs.

However, SPC required more arithmetic and math than many front-line employees would tolerate. SPC is great at answering, “What should we do?” but its use is often limited because it’s so hard to “Get everyone to do it.”

Kaizen, Lean, and Six Sigma: These three approaches are the basis for most quality programs today. Each tries to answer our first question, “What should we do?”

  • Kaizen focuses on short-term, small-scale improvement projects. It is often used at a team or even individual task level. The tools it employs are fairly simple and low cost: process mapping and cause-and-effect diagrams.
  • Lean focuses on intermediate-term, larger scale projects. These projects often span functions and departments, and include a wider variety of outcomes—quality, waste, speed, etc. It employs more tools and more sophisticated tools: visual controls, kanban, pull systems, etc.
  • Six Sigma focuses on long-term, large-scale, and complex projects. These projects involve multiple stakeholders, complex variables, and multiple outcomes. It employs the largest number, variety, and sophisticated tools: statistical tools, value-stream mapping, and a host of others.

Influencer: When we created the Influencer model, we began with the second question: “How do we get everyone to do it?” Presupposing that the quality team had already discovered what the “it” was. For example, it doesn’t take a lot of sophisticated quality tools to discover that hand washing is important in a hospital. But it often takes Influencer, with its Six Sources of Influence™, to get people to do it.

This emphasis makes Influencer the perfect complement to many process improvement initiatives. Teams use Kaizen, Lean, or Six Sigma tools to find better processes and then use Influencer to motivate and enable their adoption.

The greatest overlap between Influencer and process improvement is in two areas: Vital Behaviors and Structural Ability. Influencer focuses on the few Vital Behaviors that drive Results. Often, we use quality tools, such as process-flow maps, to find them. In addition, we use Kaizen, Lean, and Six Sigma to change the environment to make the Vital Behaviors easier and more likely.

I hope this helps. Many, if not most, of our customers use a variety of process-improvement systems. And they find that Crucial Conversations, Crucial Accountability, and Influencer play a role in furthering their success.



David Maxfield

David Maxfield is a New York Times bestselling author, keynote speaker, and leading social scientist for organizational change. For thirty years, David has delivered engaging keynotes at prestigious venues including Stanford and Georgetown Universities. David’s work has been translated into twenty-eight languages, is available in thirty-six countries, and has generated results for three hundred of the Fortune 500.
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2 thoughts on “What Should We Do and How Do We Get Everyone To Do It?”

  1. I work at the University of Virginia Medical Center. We collaborated with VitalSmarts and wrote two case studies highlighting how we used the Influencer model to change the behaviors of front line employees to reduce unplanned extubations in the NICU and how we successfully used the model to increase the administration of flu shots of our patients during flu season. We again used the model to increase employee safety by reducing on the job injuries via an initiative coined Gloves On, Goggles On. This model has changed the way we go about behavior change. Recently, a senior leader commented “Thanks for schooling me and our colleagues on the Influencer model. It has impacted my approach to change management for the rest of my career.”

  2. Wow! Thanks June. Our mission here at VitalSmarts is to change the world for good, by helping people and organizations improve their behaviors. But we aren’t the ones who make that happen. You are! Thanks for your good work.

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