Leadership involves a variety of aspects, some of which are rather lofty, such as creating a plan of action and establishing a feeling of purpose, and demonstrating behaviours you wish to be able to observe in other people. But the most effective leadership typically comes down to something simpler — convincing individuals to take on tasks they’d rather not do. Perhaps it’s getting back to the office every single day after working from home for a long time. Perhaps it’s the idea of reinventing performance reviews or launching a brand new product that is a challenge to the old favorites. If leadership is to work towards changing, then getting over the human tendency to resist change must been at the most important agenda of any leader.
In the past 150 years, Herman Melville created one of the most memorable (and frustrating) business figures that can be found in American literature. The short tale of Melville introduced the reader to Bartleby the Scrivener an employee at a lower level of the Wall Street law firm whom was asked to complete even the simplest task or even make the smallest changes to his routine, would reply, “I prefer not to.” This is not saying that your colleagues are the modern day version of Bartleby but when it comes to being up to speed with the latest methods of working, selling or invent The reality is that a lot of people rather not.
So , how can leaders convince people to do something they’d rather not? Researchers from the field of social science have been grappling with this issue for a long time. They’ve devised numerous experiments that helped them discover two different convincing techniques. Both of these strategies are able to be effective when the situation is right however neither does a great job translating from the ivory-tower research of social science into the tangled reality of the workplace. Both techniques allow leaders to reflect on the difficult task of creating big changes, and what’s required to overcome what management scholars like to refer to as “active rigidity” -which is the tendency of people and organizations to find comfort with the traditional methods of conducting business and even (or particularly) when the environment around them is changing rapidly.
Technique of “Foot-in-the-Door” Technique
One possible answer, that psychologists refer to as the “foot-in-the-door” method is that the best method to convince people to change something massive or to do something difficult is to request that they make a small change or do something that is easy. If they agree to the request, and later following through, people build an attitude of confidence and commitment which increases their enthusiasm for taking on following (bigger) suggestion. This means that the road to changes is made of tiny steps and small bets, each one of which builds upon the previous steps.
In their groundbreaking article about the technique of foot-in-the-door, Stanford professors Jonathan L. Freedman and Scott C. Fraser noted that in the majority of organisations and societies, “it is somewhat difficult to turn down an acceptable solicitation,” so starting small can make it difficult to convince people to refuse. However, “once someone has agreed to do something however tiny,” they “tend to be more connected” in the event and thus are more likely to accept larger actions. The benefit of this method is that it results in “compliance with no pressure” and individuals are enticed to try something different, rather than being forced to perform it. The reasoning is in the spirit of the well-known saying, if you convince people to move just an inch, in the end, they could make one mile.
I’ve seen the “foot-in-the-door” strategy perform well, even though those who embraced the strategy did not use the word. Think about the rise of Megabus which is a leading company in an industry with a long tradition which is an example of the power of persuasiveness when you get an entrance. Nowadays, Megabus looks like a textbook disruptor. It’s it’s a modern, colorful company with a wide-ranging reputation that transports college students, professional students, as well as tourists on weekends throughout the nation. As a brand and business brand, it’s an outstanding performer with all the hallmarks of a paper-free startup.
However, Megabus was created within one of the largest transportation conglomerates of the world the 40-year-old company based in Scotland with a team of company veterans who were not to be confused with young people of Silicon Valley. The executives of Megabus were able make these dramatic changes because they convinced their employees to think about and implement small adjustments that could be made. What if we had an entirely new type of bus? What if we cut out stops along our routes, and instead made solely express connections? How would these roads were connected to smaller cities that were close and not large cities that were located far away? What could we do if we implemented an electronic ticketing system?
Each of these minor adjustments had plenty of doubters. However, once people realized that they had a positive effect and were a success, they wanted more. Megabus USA’s CEO said to me “This is a trial or an idea that was a bet of a tiny amount on where the industry could be headed. There was no expert saying”This could be the next phase of travel by bus.” As one of Megabus’s technologists who helped with the launch explained to me that Megabus was founded “as a small, untested experiment” which eventually grew into “a important component” in Stagecoach. Stagecoach company.
Through posing simple what-if questions, and asking their colleagues to participate in a few small steps, the executives of Megabus were able to get their foot in the door that opened the doors of their business wide open.
Technique: The “Door-in-the-Face” Technique
There’s another answer to the question of how to convince people to perform actions they’d rather not. This is to insist that they do something larger and more dramatic than what you are thinking of in your mind. When they do not agree or are resistant the idea, they appear less important in contrast. Psychologists refer to this as the “door-in-the-face” method. In a different article that was groundbreaking researchers asked “What is the effect from making an extreme initial request that is certain to be denied, then making a less sluggish third” request? The answer, as it appears will be more likely to comply with the second one.
When it comes to the realities in companies, the door-in-the face approach is as much metaphor as it is a real persuasion method. The key lesson to learn from leadership isn’t to make regularly demands you know people aren’t able to or won’t or accept, or that it’s acceptable to fool your team members with false objectives to achieve the goals you are thinking of. The concept of setting expectations for improvement and making changes that appear unreasonable or extreme especially in those organizations which suffer from active inertia, you are able to influence people to look at ideas that they might not have considered otherwise. Wharton faculty member Jerry Wind calls this “the power of impossibly thinking” -which can help make huge changes feasible.
When I was thinking about the individuals who were able to master the door-in-the-face method I was thinking back to the incredible accomplishments that were made by Vince Lombardi, the legendary coach of the legendary Green Bay Packers, and according to many, the most successful football coach ever. When Lombardi came to Green Bay, the team had endured the worst season of its history. Within a short period Lombardi led his team of Packers to three consecutive and five overall NFL championships. One of the reasons Lombardi had such success was because he was unorthodox in the expectations he had for improvement and performance of his players. He made it clear that every block needed to be perfect, each shift needed to be flawless and every cut needed to be perfectly timed, for every single play his team performed.
When asked why he had set these impossible standards, even when those standards always triggered resistance and pushback Lombardi responded: “Perfection is not attainable. If we strive for perfection, we will find the highest level of excellence.” This type of door-in-the-face-thinking and insisting on goals even the players were not able to reach, enabled Lombardi to persuade players to perform at levels that they could not have otherwise.
Do you as a leader accountable for the hard work involved in major change, accept the logic and lessons from the technique of the foot-in-the-door or the door-in-the-face method? It all depends on your own personal style, the types of issues your company faces as well as the culture you’ve developed and the employees you’ve hired. There isn’t single best way to manage the way to change and create exceptional performance. There is however one universal issue: getting people to take action they’d rather not do. You can ask Bartleby or the Scrivener.