I’ve been thinking about what I like to call the “double down effect.” It’s also known as push back, resistance to change, and a host of other terms used to describe what happens when you try to push people in a direction they don’t want to go. Instead of merely rejecting the information, they “double down” on their efforts to continue unchanged, even if it is harmful in the long run.
One recent example was in the area of wellness. A company started pushing its employees to start eating right and exercising, but it was heavy-handed and not at all tailored to individual needs. Employees quickly came to resent the latest management fad/program, and they began to make a game out of eating fast food, avoiding the “recommended physical activities” under the wellness plan, etc.
What was meant to help actually ended up hurting the workforce, because any further attempts to implement a wellness program would have to not only overcome the initial hurdles, but the lingering affects of this clumsy attempt at changing a deeply-ingrained set of behaviors.
So, now what?
If you’re still with me on the concept, you’re probably wondering how to avoid getting this backlash any time a change is recommended. There’s no blanket answer, but if we’re following the example above, here are a few ideas to consider when you begin the process of planning and communicating a change to the workforce.
- Use your key influencers. Get the informal leaders on board early, then leverage their connections to grow the movement organically.Â
- Develop a communications strategy. Throwing out an email or a flyer with no advance warning is the best way to immediately invite resistance. Instead, offer previews of what’s coming. Talk about the benefits. It’s a sales process, to sell it!
- Offer multiple messages for different groups of people. Some employees prefer to hear news about changes from their manager. Others like to get bits and pieces and develop their own opinions. Still others prefer to discuss the ideas in groups. Provide multiple avenues for gathering information (and for goodness sake, please don’t make HR the gatekeeper for all the data!).
You’re still going to get some resistance to the change process, no matter what the change might be. If you’re looking for some additional wisdom on the topic, I’d recommend this book on change leadership that I reviewed earlier this year. Good stuff in there on this specific topic.
How do you avoid the “double down effect” with your own staff? I’d love to hear some additional tips and tricks from the field.Â
Great article, thanks Ben.
My tip would be to explain the ‘why’ behind the proposed solution.
All too often I see projects or initiatives being rolled out across an organisation without the reasoning behind it being explained. As a result, people question whether the initiative is worth the time and effort etc. and whether there are better alternatives.
Instead, if the problem / pain being felt can be explained (e.g. “We’ve noticed a 10% increase sickness relating to sedentary lifestyles, and that’s not good for the company or for employees”) then people are much more likely to get on-board rather than double-down. (In fact, they may have their own ideas and quick wins).
Certainly when I’ve helped organisations implement 360 exercises, (particularly where they had failed previously) I’ve seen a huge impact of explaining why it is being implemented beforehand (e.g. “Employees keep asking HR for development opportunities, but are unsure in what areas they need to develop most”).