Force Field Analysis

by Michael C. Kelly, MA

Have you ever tried to collectively consider a change in your organization? For some groups a change discussion amounts to little more than a exacerbating brawl. Rather than get entangled in a messy dialogue about "possible" productivity improvements or enhancements to the meaning of work, they rail against the change in favour of the perceived stability of a status quo. Individuals in these groups may even shun a herd approach to change in favour of a personal "go it alone" strategy. In all these instances there are "forces" at work - negative forces.

One useful tool for facilitating a change discussion is the force field analysis. (1) It helps work through the various forces that influence a change and helps a group decide on the merits of the change. Here's how it works:

Facilitation Steps

1. Describe the ideal situation

This is a description of the overall change required. It lends meaning to the change by giving it a strategic context. At this point a simple statement describing the ideal situation is written and represented with a vertical line.

Illustration 1:  Let's assume a small business is looking to save money by using open source software. Notice the triangle in this diagram. The triangle or delta is the forth letter in the Greek alphabet and is used as a symbol to indicate change.

2. Describe the current situation.

This is a description of the world as it exists at the moment - the status quo. At this point a brief statement describing the current situation is written and a representational vertical line is drawn in the centre of the page.

 Illustration 2:  This is the status quo.

3. List the driving forces

Here we list the driving forces on the left side of the current situation line. These are the forces that push the line  to the right, allowing us to move from the current situation to the ideal situation. 

Illustration 3:  Notice the lines denoting the direction of the driving forces.

4. List the preventing forces

Here we list the preventing forces on the right side of the current situation line. These are the forces that will prevent the line from moving - or even push it back - thereby hindering our ability to move from the current situation to the ideal situation.

Illustration 4:  At this point we will have a list of driving and preventing forces.

5. Weigh the forces

With all the driving and preventing forces, how do we know which one will prevail. To help sort this out try weighing the relative values of each force on a scale of 1 to 5, where 5 represents the most powerful and 1 the least powerful. Once the force values have been assigned, add them to help develop a sense of which force will prevail. 

Illustration 6: Here we assign force values. Keep in mind assigning these numbers may be based on subjective considerations.

6. Discuss

The final step is to discuss the result with the intent of:

  • deciding if the change is possible (Are the driving forces too draconian? Are the preventing forces overwhelming?)
  • determining the best way to maximize the driving forces
  • determining the best way to minimize the preventing forces

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Notes:

  1. The original force-field analysis was developed by the Polish-born, social psychologist Kurt Lewin in the middle of the 20th century.


© 2011  Michael C Kelly