Key learning outcomes:

  • Apply force field analysis when contemplating change in your business.
  • Differentiate between driving forces and restraining forces.
  • Address negative or restraining forces to tip the scales in favour of a change initiative.
  • Practise using this visual tool in brainstorming sessions to optimise its value.

Article

The force field analysis is a strategic tool that was developed in the 1940s by psychologist Kurt Lewin. It is extremely useful in decision-making and when you are seeking to make changes to your business. The tool helps you to assess the forces that drive a decision or change, along with the forces that are obstacles and can hold you back. By identifying forces that will affect the outcome of your initiative, you are able to assess whether you should strengthen the positive forces or reduce the negative forces and therefore enhance your chance of success.

The theory

Lewin felt that any issue was held in the balance between the two opposing sets of forces: those seeking to change (the driving forces) and those attempting to maintain the status quo (restraining forces). The tool is designed to allow you to assess the strength of each of these forces. If you discover the driving forces are stronger, then you should proceed. If they are weaker, then you should not proceed.

You need to identify all forces for and against your change and then give each one a score; we usually adopt a 1–10 range. When you calculate the total for all the positives and negatives and compare the two scores, it is easy to see which is the stronger side.. You can then assess each of the forces individually to see if there is an opportunity to influence the score and in turn the outcome.[wlm_ismember]

Using the tool in your business

You can use Lewin’s force field analysis as a decision-making tool so you can decide whether or not to proceed with an idea which may enhance your success. As it is a visual tool, it can be very effective when working in a group or team situation such as in the case study below. We find it is very useful in uncovering issues that may not have been initially apparent to those driving the change.

When using the theory, always start by placing the decision or change being considered in the middle of the page or whiteboard. You then add all of the forces for and against. You need to think of as many factors as possible that might affect your decision, to ensure the analysis is comprehensive. Once completed you can score each force and then decide whether to proceed, to abandon the idea or perhaps look for other changes to optimise the chance of success.

Case study

Probably the best way to illustrate Lewin’s force field analysis is to look at a real-life case study. The following analysis was used when looking to change a sales team’s mindset from being reactive to proactive in their business generation efforts. The company had been trying to initiate a strategy of calling past clients to increase levels of repeat and referral business. It was having trouble implementing the initiative so it used force field analysis to determine how best to move forward.

The theory in action

Lewin’s force field analysis is generally depicted as a diagram. The change is described in a box in the middle. Forces pushing in favour of the change are shown in arrows on the left-hand side and forces against on the right-hand side. Often there will be an unequal number of forces on each side; this does not matter, as you are more concerned with the relative importance or strength of the forces rather than the number of forces.

In our case study a group of salespeople was asked to identify forces on either side, and then gave each a score from 1 to 10, with 1 indicating that the force was not very strong to 10 that the force was extremely strong. The diagram below is the force field analysis that resulted from that discussion.

forcefield

The score for the driving forces totaled 30 and the restraining forces 36. This information highlighted why the change initiative had not been successful to date – the restraining forces were greater than the driving forces. It might therefore seem on the surface that the change initiative was doomed. However, when management looked at each force individually, it was able to work with the team to minimise the effect of some of the restraining forces, thus altering the score in favour of driving forces.

For example, the restraining force of ‘not knowing what to say’ was quite easily addressed through training, brainstorming and ensuring that everyone was clear on the intended message for the client. Additionally, the restraining forces ‘not being organised’ and ‘time’ ended up being the same issue, and working to create better systems and processes ensured these were addressed over time.

The key for this company was to use the force field analysis to determine what was holding back the change initiative. Through this visual tool they were able to work as a team on reducing the restraining forces while also reinforcing the reasons for the change, which resulted in a long-term positive outcome.[/wlm_ismember]

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