Americans have been told to wear masks in the name of pandemic prevention with limited success. The more pressure applied to these mask resistors, the louder their voices rise in opposition. We have seen the viral videos where a customer yells and throws things after being told by a clerk that masks are required. The more ordinances that are passed, the more push back. Nothing seems to be working.
For those of you who want to see more mask wearing and hear less “can I speak to a Manager”, you are in luck. I am a #ChangeManager. AKA, an organizational shrink. However, instead of addressing personal lives, I fix #workplace problems.
I help people transition through work changes. I pull levers to encourage employees to accept new products. technologies and ways of working. This approach is based on organization psychological principles that great thinkers such as #JohnPKotter developed. Translation: It works!
So let’s apply these proven change practices to the mask issue.
1/ Create a Sense of Urgency
Kotter maintained that the first step to motivating an organization to act is to establish a sense of urgency. He wisely said that the key is to then turn this sense of urgency into a tangible compelling action that everyone understands. Kotter said “But the real power of a vision is unleashed only when most of those involved in an enterprise or activity have a common understanding of its goals and direction. That shared sense of a desirable future can help motivate all kinds of actions that create transformations.”
We can keep sharing this message of a shared better future state. It may be our first knee jerk reaction to tell someone to wear a mask. However, it is better to start by pointing out the wins for complying. In this case, the positive outcome could be living another day!
2/ Make it a Two-Way Conversation
What do all the viral videos have in common? The customer does not feel listened to and thus becomes frustrated. Change management principles suggest that when faced with a resistor, follow some simple steps:
- Identify their valid concerns and address them
- Show that you understand their objections
- Be clear about what you cannot change
By taking the above approach you enter into conversation with the resistor. You show that they are being heard and you give them some credit for their thinking. However, in the end you let them know that you cannot change the policy, nor the importance of the practice.
3/ Finally, Make Folks Feel Like They Have a Choice
It is a rule in the change management profession to avoid “telling” employees what to do. Even when there are mandates we point out the areas where the employee has free will. In fact, we create a pull that results in people wanting to comply with changes. The fact that these techniques can at times get people to act on their own free will, without establishing any new rules, is a bonus.
By giving the resistor a choice, it often disarms them. I have seen many employees over the years itching for a fight about a change. By letting them know that in the end they get to decide how they act, ironically, many times they come around. [BTW: Even with mask laws, this change principle suggests starting conversations with choice versus the mandate.]
You may suspect that these workplace practices will fail on the mean streets given the passionate responses of mask resistors. However, they have resulted in tens and thousands of employees not only complying, but even, welcoming changes. It may be time to call a workplace shrink!
In addition to #ChangeManagement, Dr. Anderson consults on #LeadershipDevelopment, #CulturalTransformation and #OrganizationalDesign.
Note: I updated this blog on Oct. 30, 2020 in order to reflect broader challenges around mask wearing in American.
This blog does not reflect the views of my employer.