Foot in the Door Technique

My four year old daughter is an master social psychologist, or just a natural manipulator. Here’s an example:

Daughter: Can I go over to Lilia’s house to play?

Dad: Sure

… some time latter …

Daughter: Can I stay for a sleep over?

Dad: Um, I guess so.

My daughter doesn’t know it but she is using what social psychologists call the "foot-in-the-door" technique (Brehm & Kassin, 1993). The same technique is applicable when rolling out new software.

How it works

The "foot-in-the-door" technique includes two-steps. The first step involves getting a person to comply with a small request. The second step has the same person being asked to comply with a much larger request. A person who agreed to the smaller request is much more likely to agree to the larger request than somebody who was only asked the larger request. Brehm and Kassin (1993) explain how this works: "when people are gently coaxed into doing something, and when they are not otherwise certain about how they feel, they come to view themselves in ways that are consistent with their behavior" ( p. 51). Peters and Waterman (1982, p. 74) put it slightly differently: "only if you get people acting, even in small ways, the way you want them to, will they come to believe in what they’re doing".

So, going back to my daughter’s request, having agreed that she can visit her friend it is much easier for me to agree to the suggestion of a sleep over. By saying "yes" the first time, I have subconsciously become the kind of dad that says "yes" to let-me-be-with-friends types of request. In contrast, if my daughter had just asked for the sleep over, without the earlier request to play, she risked an outright "no"

Using it for software rollout

All power to my four year old but what has this got to do with the business world?

Well, my current programme team use the same technique to help with rolling out the software that is the core of our change programme. For example, one of our target departments have Rotas in Excel documents. We used the Rotas as the subject of our first request in the "foot-in-the-door" technique. We, fairly arbitrarily, moved the Rotas from a network drive to the MS Sharepoint portal we’re rolling out. The implicit request was, please come to the portal for your Rotas. And sure enough, because people in the department need the Rotas, they started visiting the portal.

The second request was, now please use the portal for News Planning rather than the old system we’re trying to replace. This was a much bigger request. Terribly significant for us because this is the main rationale for the programme. Significant for the users because they’ve been tied to the existing system for many years. By making the portal adoption a two step process we are much increased the chances of a successful transition. Given they were already going to the portal – for the Rotas – they had turned themselves into the-kind-of-people-that-are-portal-users, and as such they were much more likely to comply with the new request regarding News Planning.

References

Brehm, S. S., & Kassin, S. M. (1993). Social Psychology.

Peters, T. & Waterman, R. H. (1982). In Search Of Excellence: Lessons from America’s Best-Run Companies.

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