Understanding force field analysis
Reading time: about 7 min
Maybe in an alternate reality, people like change. They wake up every day in eager anticipation of the organizational and procedural changes that await them at the office. And they embrace those changes with joy and gratitude. But in our reality, people don’t like change. We resist even if the change is simple and will help us be more efficient and productive.
The challenge is that technology is rapidly changing the way we do business, and we have to be willing to adapt and keep up with the changes or we’ll be left behind. And we have to find ways to help others to avoid the instinctive urge to resist change.
Fortunately, there are change management and decision-making tools—such as a force field analysis—that can help you to determine what needs to be changed while reducing the risk of change resistance.
What is force field analysis?
Force field analysis was developed in the 1940s by German-American psychologist Kurt Lewin. He developed the tool for use in social psychology (the study of group behavior), but it also applies in business settings.
Force field analysis lets you look at the different factors (or forces) that can influence a situation, such as a proposed change to an operational procedure. Every situation has a set of driving forces and restraining forces.
These are the forces that support a situation. They represent the positive reasons that your company should adopt and implement a change. Examples include:
- New technology
- New competition
- Laws and regulations
- Public opinion
- New leadership
- Increased product demand
These represent the forces that are opposed to new ideas and changes. Restraining forces work to keep the status quo because it’s easier. Examples include:
- Fear and uncertainty
- Working in a comfort zone
- Organizational culture
- Employees working with silo mentality
- Lack of communication
- Inadequate training
Driving and restraining force balance
If the driving forces and restraining forces are equal to each other, they are balanced and no change will be made. This balance (the status quo or equilibrium) needs to be broken before any change can be made. To break the balance, the driving forces need to be strengthened or the restraining forces need to be weakened.
The analysis of the balance between the driving and restraining forces gives you a better idea of what to do in “go/no-go” situations. When the driving forces are greater than the restraining forces, you can go ahead with your change. If the restraining forces are greater than the driving forces, the change should not or does not need to be made.
Why use force field analysis?
The force field analysis is an easy-to-use, visual tool that can help you to make better decisions and be more effective in change management. Benefits include:
- Gives you a visual summary of the factors that support and oppose any given idea. And it helps you to identify key players who support or oppose a change.
- Helps you to identify potential obstacles that will impede the implementation of a change so you can strengthen ideas that support the change.
- Because it’s visual, it’s easier to communicate with employees and management the factors that support an idea or change. And it helps everybody to more clearly see if a change is worth implementing.
- Encourages collaboration and input from multiple people to determine driving and restraining forces.
- Uses a scoring method that makes your decisions quantifiable.
- Helps you to understand why some people don’t want to change.
How to conduct a force field analysis
A force field analysis should not be conducted by a single person. It’s better to have a small team of five to 10 team members to ensure that there is more than one point of view. And it’s important to keep everybody who will be impacted by the change up to date on your progress. Transparency and regular communication can make it easier for you to get buy-in from everybody involved.
Step 1: Define the issue
Start by defining what needs to be addressed. For example, maybe you need to update equipment or hire more customer service reps.
Using a virtual whiteboard, draw a box. Inside the box, write a description of the issue and the desired goal or result you’d like to see from a successful implementation.
As part of this step, you might want to assess your current situation. This will help you to understand where you are right now with what you have and where you need to go. For example, if your issue is that you want to update equipment, look at the challenges (breaks down frequently) and benefits (is paid for and gets the job done) of using current equipment. This can give you a better idea of what is maintaining the status quo regarding the use of current equipment.
Step 2: Identify the driving forces
Conduct a brainstorming session to list driving forces that support the issue being addressed. These could be internal driving forces such as avoiding downtime or external forces such as satisfying customer demand.
Place the driving forces to the left of your box. The forces are typically placed inside arrow shapes that point toward the box. Try to identify as many driving forces as you can. You might want to get feedback from people outside your team who will be impacted by your decisions. They can help you to see things from a different perspective, which can help you to avoid identifying driving forces based on your own subjective biases.
Step 3: Identify the restraining forces
Have another brainstorming or mind-mapping session to list the restraining forces that might block you from solving the issue you’re working on. These can be factors such as fear (am I qualified to operate new equipment?), lack of training resources, employee attitude, and so on.
Place the restraining forces (inside an arrow shape) on the right side of your box. Again, you might want to get input from people outside your group to avoid bias.
Step 4: Evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the driving and restraining forces
An easy way to do this is to assign strength and weakness scores based on a numerical scale. For example, the number five indicates a strong impact on the issue while a number one indicates a weak impact. Assign a number between one and five to each force listed on both sides of the box. Then add up the score for each side.
Step 5: Review what you’ve done and take action
At this point, you are technically finished with your force field analysis. Now you need to review the data so you understand what it is telling you.
A higher score on the left side indicates that the idea or issue is viable. You’ll want to start working on an action plan to implement the change. Your action plan will help you to determine what needs to be done, who is responsible, what resources are needed, start and end dates, and so on. Following a plan increases the likelihood of a successful implementation and encourages buy-in from employees.
A high score on the right side tips the balance to the restraining forces and indicates that the idea is not viable. You might decide to discard it and start work on another issue. Or, you might want to reevaluate all of the forces. Look for ways to strengthen the driving forces and weaken the restraining forces to reach your desired goal.
How can the Lucid Visual Collaboration Platform help?
The steps above describe drawing all the elements of your force field analysis. Fortunately, Lucidspark and Lucidchart have all the tools and templates you need to conduct brainstorming and mind-mapping sessions, complete a force field analysis, and create an action plan to implement your changes—all without drawing freehand on a whiteboard or putting a pencil to paper.
Brainstorm in Lucidspark, then use this Lucidchart force field analysis template to diagram your analysis. Using visuals helps you to communicate your ideas more easily with all interested parties. For example, in addition to or instead of a number assigned to each force, you can lengthen or shorten the arrow shape to indicate relative strength or weakness. These types of visual cues are easy to read and understand.
Start customizing the force field analysis in Lucidchart.Go now
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