Want Americans to Wear Masks? Call in a Workplace Shrink


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.

Published by Kevin Anderson, Dr. Organizational Design (OD)

Kevin Anderson is a leading expert in organizational design and performance, leadership, large scale change projects, business process engineering and talent and culture initiatives. Kevin has over twenty five years of experience in designing and delivering high impact, global organizational solutions. He is a Senior Organizational Development Consultant at Cargill where he leads efforts around team effectiveness, organizational design, culture and change management. Kevin diagnoses, proposes and delivers solutions in the Talent Performance domain. He has also created and rolled out Leadership Development and Organizational Development for the City of Minneapolis. Before that Kevin successfully worked with Accelare consulting health care, retail and university clients to create actionable strategic plans. In addition, he has served as an organizational development leader at Thomson Reuters working with legal, financial and scientific products. Kevin has a Doctorate in Organizational Leadership, Policy and Development and a Masters of Arts in Public Policy and Management from the University of Minnesota. His Bachelors Degree in Speech Communications and Political Science is from Macalester College.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


Be inspired and motivate others

Kevin Anderson, Dr. Organizational Design

Building High Performance Workplaces for Productivity, Fulfillment and Connection

The Daily Post

The Art and Craft of Blogging

WordPress.com News

The latest news on WordPress.com and the WordPress community.

%d bloggers like this: