Lucia Emerson and Influence Across 3 Divisions1

Lucia works in supply chain management at a very large global company, (called Grandetech in this disguised example), mostly virtually, and seldom has her own subordinates to manage.  In this instance, she was offered a chance to lead an important cross-divisional team with members from divisions that had differing goals and objectives. She had to use all of her influence skills to help them arrive at a sensible decision for the company. As she explained it:

The problem I was asked to address was to fix the existing SAP-based solution for managing outside contractors, or wipe it clean and do a completely new one.  The system was not working; we use up to 50,000 contract employees at once, and the process was so complex that at one warehouse they couldn’t even open, because none of the contractors’ badges worked and they couldn’t get people registered to get into the facility.

Three key decision makers owned everything: IT — sustaining technical support; Materials — manages all transactions related to headcount; and the biggest group, Corporate Services — all facilities management, (half of Grandetech contractors;  janitorial, facilities, etc).  They were spending more time on managing the system because of the volumes, and were the loudest stakeholders. 

Getting all three on the same page was one of the toughest challenges I have seen.  IT wants it fastest and cheapest in terms of development resources to design, launch, and maintain it.  The existing contractor management tool was so disastrous that they getting 4 times as many calls to the help line as any similar tool they were responsible for supporting.  They had to hire lots more help just to answer calls and do handholding.  From my research I knew the best idea would need more resources in the beginning, but ought to be much less expensive to maintain. Our approach with IT was, if you will just let us spend more upfront, we can get a solution that can minimize the ongoing resources needed.   

For Materials, my group, the biggest stake was risking control; they had to see that the operating units stayed within contractual terms, like data privacy, because the contract workers are at our sites or on our network.  They need to see that we are mitigating risk appropriately while running the business smoothly.  The problem was that the existing tool totally dealt with risk, but too much, at the expense of holding up our business. 

For Corporate Services the primary driver was running our facilities: (How will I keep my construction project on schedule, get new fab open, not disrupt my cafeteria, etc.?).  They care about risk, but for them it is not as pressing.  And IT wanted to hold down spending and support

Corporate Services wanted people in the door easily and quickly, with the least time to manage.  Three totally different perspectives, yet we had to get one solution.

How did Lucia go about this difficult assignment?

The cross-functional task force I led analyzed 3-4 alternative solutions, and did a usability study on the existing system; to capture end user perspective and overcome built in biases we recorded audio of actually bringing a contract person in the door, asking the employee to think out loud as they were doing it, while measuring keystrokes.  It was a really effective tool for capturing the reality of the current system; the challenge for us was how we do it in a way that would be convincing.  (Using the existing system we had only a 14% pass rate, which was also compelling data, but not as much as hearing a high level person say while trying to enroll a person, ‘I can’t go further.’)

To make the tradeoffs, the team agreed on high level decision criteria, using a 6 sigma tool, the cause-effect template.  In the end we got one set of scores for each option, weight times score, giving us a numerical value.  The build option was 30% better. It was a way to quantify qualitative criteria; that came closer to ‘measure and calculate,’ which fits our engineering culture. It gave us a way to talk; the divisions can’t disagree if they have been part of the process all the way, even when they don’t necessarily like the conclusion.

We had also shot user videos that we could excerpt to use in presentations.  Letting executives see relatively senior managers talking out loud, saying “I don’t know where to go next,” was very effective in getting even IT to accept that we couldn’t just fix the SAP system, so spending was needed.  It helped Materials understand that risk mitigation had to happen along with efficiency and usability. 

I recommended scrapping SAP and going with an internally custom -built solution, using what we learned from SAP, but balancing risk and usability.  They eventually settled with my approach, and built a system from the ground up as a custom app.  It went very well.  That team was one of the highest performing teams I have ever been a part of.  In our final survey, all involved rated it highly, all worked together. We eventually got a divisional award for it.  When we went to roll out the changes, I asked the VPs of each of the three areas to do video assessments, and they were very complimentary, impressed.  Now it has been working for two years, and continues with minimal changes.

I hadn’t realized just how bad a situation I was taking on.  But it put me on the map through the VP level; I like hard work, when there is ambiguity and difficulty to get agreement.  Of course there were days of pulling my hair out, but it was a great thing to work on.

I am getting more benefits from the increase in reputation as we go. The Corporate Services VP and I have crossed paths several times now, just because of that. For example, he saw me at a 12 person meeting a while back, and said, “Oh great, Lucia is here, we will be fine. “  Reputation makes a difference.  I look at every influence situation as an opportunity to build credibility.  It is definitely not just about having a fancy technique; our culture has integrity so at the heart, so you have to do the work, have your data, and can’t fake it. 

Remember, good work has to be paired with all the stakeholder planning and influencing activities.