Author: Tip Fallon, Business Analyst
So how exactly do you implement a change in an organization? The process is generally long and complex, but Kurt Lewin’s Force Field Analysis is a model that you can use in the planning stages to help you:
(1) identify the forces supporting and restraining your desired change,
(2) understand the balance between the forces (which will determine if your change will be effective), and
(3) identify the most effective place to direct your energy for the change to be successful.
Here is an overview of how to apply the Force Field Analysis to a change effort:
(Note: Practitioners will use this tool in different ways. Feel free to tailor it in the way that best suits you and your team.)
Step 1: State the desired change in one sentence.
What change do you want to accomplish?
Step 2: Setup the Force Field Diagram.
Setup a sheet of paper (or white board) with the sentence form Step 1 describing the change written at the top. Then draw a line down the middle of the paper dividing it in half.
On the left side, create a heading as “Driving forces” and on the right, a header as “Restraining forces.”
Step 3: List and rate all restraining and driving forces impacting the change.
Brainstorm all the driving and restraining forces for the change. Write them in their respective sides of the paper with a number representing the strength of the force.
This is one of the most important steps in the process. Consider the many types of forces driving or restraining the change (e.g., technology, leadership, organizational culture, processes, environment, historical experiences related to the change, reward systems, etc.). Conceptually, if you can identify and mitigate every potential restraining force against your desired change, your change will be successful as there will be no forces to stop it.
Use a scale of 1-5 for the strength of each force:
1: Negligible impact on the change; Easy to eliminate
2: Some impact on the change; Can be overcome with moderate effort/resources
3: Considerable impact on the change; Requires an investment of planning and resources to eliminate
4: Significant impact on the change; Requires high effort/resources to minimize it but probably cannot be eliminated
5: Can make or break the change by itself; Nearly impossible to eliminate
Note: Feel free to adjust the scale’s parameters; the key is to use consistent criteria.
For each force, draw an arrow (scaled to the strength of the force if desired) towards the middle line. This represents the force pushing “for” or “against” the change.
Step 4: Do a litmus test.
Add the total strength scores for the restraining and driving forces. Are they way out of proportion? If the restraining forces far outweigh the driving forces, this may not be a viable change effort. If they are close, or the driving forces are greater, you may have a viable change effort on your hands.
Step 5: Determine which restraining forces can be reduced.
The crux of this tool: In order for the change to succeed, the driving forces need to outweigh the restraining forces. The way to accomplish that is not to simply increase the driving forces – that only makes the restraining forces push back harder. The key is to reduce or eliminate the restraining forces. That way there’s nothing standing in the way of the change and you need even less driving forces to succeed.
For each restraining force, identify how you can either (1) eliminate, (2) control, or (3) influence it. You may find that you can at least influence every force. You probably also now have a list of what would have to happen (a to-do list) for this change to succeed.
Re-calculate the total strength score for restraining forces. Does this change the balance of the driving forces to restraining forces?
Completing this process should provide a better idea of exactly what forces are driving and restraining the desired change. This helps you determine if the change is even worthwhile. Further, by analyzing the restraining forces and using methods such as group brainstorming, you may find that there are few forces that you cannot influence, control, or eliminate.
The fundamental principle here: The forces acting for change must be greater than those acting against it. Next time there is an idea to create a change in your organization, consider using Kurt Lewin’s Force Field Analysis to identify the forces at play, and manage them to increase the probability of success of your change effort.