Force Field Analysis was developed by Kurt Lewin in the 1940s and is an important contribution to the theoretical field of change management (Lewin, 1943). Change management is an element of strategic management which aims to ensure that the organisation responds effectively to the environment in which it operates within. Lewin’s Force Field Analysis provides an overview of the change-relates issues that need to be addressed and dealt with by the organisation, dividing external factors into forces for and against change. It is predominantly used in the circumstances that change is the result of dissatisfaction with the current strategies, such as performance or inability to meet objectives. This change does not occur by itself, but it is the result of developing a vision for a better strategic direction for the organisation, in which the management have to effectively develop strategies that enable them to implement change. It is assumed that there will be an inevitable resistance change, however, this resistance is not impossible to overcome and the Force Field Analysis is useful in developing ways to mitigate these resistances.
Under Lewin’s model, there are forces that aid in driving change, and forces that aid in restraining change, in which an equilibrium between the two leads to a lack of change. For change to occur, the driving forces must outweigh the restraining forces, otherwise, making the changes is more likely to be of detriment to the organisation (Cronshaw & McCulloch, 2008). The forces and resistances to change can further be divided into internal and external drivers, providing an insight into both the elements within the control of the organisation and those outside of control of the organisation. Internal drivers of change can include the general dissatisfaction with the current state of the organisation, a desire to increase the organisations profitability and market position, reorganisation to increase efficiency and competitiveness, machine and product degradation and ageing, interdepartmental conflict, incompatible organisational structure and issues of morale or ineffective communication. External drivers of change refer to growing demand for better quality, volatile and uncertain economic environment, increased competition, rising cost of inputs, changing legislation and taxation, political, social and ethical values, technological change, growing globalisation and the changing composition and culture of the organisation. The main pressures for organisational change tend to derive from the external environment. The internal restrictors of change refer to parochial self-interest, habitual behaviours, a misunderstanding of purpose of organisational change, a limited tolerance for change, disagreement over the needs of the organisation and the economic implications of organisational change. External restrictors of change may be a positive economic environment, growing confidence within the market or a comfortable market position, however, most restricting factors derive internally for the organisation.
Lewin’s Change Model refers to the three stages required in any process of change within an organisation, and consists of three steps: unfreezing, changing and refreezing (Mayon-White, 1993). Lewin argues that for change to happen, the current state of equilibrium (or existing business practises) must be disturbed, either through the addition of favourable conditions to the change or by a reduction in the resisting forces. In Lewin’s model of change, this shows a simple and practical model of behaviour change, in which the process of change involves creating the perception that change is needed (unfreezing), moving towards the desired behaviour (changing) and solidifying this behaviour as the new norm (refreezing). Unfreezing involves recognising what needs to change, ensuring the structural soundness of the leadership, creating an internal desire for change, and managing the doubts and concerns surrounding the change. Change involves communicating frequently, dispelling rumours, empowering action, and involving all actors into the process to ensure the change is throughout the organisation. Refreezing involves anchoring the changes into organisational culture, developing sustainable ways to maintain the change, and providing ongoing support and training.
Lewin’s Force Field Analysis is predominantly used in organisational strategy and change management as a tool to distinguish the factors which contribute to an equilibrium point in which leads to a balance of powers for an organisation. used to distinguish the factors within a business that either drive an individual towards or away from a desirable state, and the conditions which oppose these driving forces. It is used to develop an understanding of the balance of power within an organisation, and to understand how and when to implement change, and what factors will contribute or restrict this organisational change.
The benefits of the Lewin’s analysis are that it provides the organisation with an insight into the factors impacting their ability to implement and successfully achieve organisational change. It enables the organisation to gain an understanding surrounding the balance of powers involved in a specific issue, or the driving and resisting powers impacting an element of the business. It provides the organisation with a mechanism in which to identify the key stakeholders relating to a certain issue, as well as how to identify opposition and allies in the change process. It also provides the organisation with an insight on how to influence their target groups and customers.
One of the main advantages of Force Field Analysis is that it provides a visual summary of all the numerous factors driving and restricting a particular idea, with all the data (drivers and resistors) collated into one, simple graph, making it easy to visualize and comprehend. It provides the organisation with the ability to rank their drivers and resistors in terms of their actual threat or benefit to the organisation, providing insight into which factors are priority in capitalizing on or mitigating (Mayon-White, 1993). It also expands the evaluation process beyond the initial data collected by considering qualitative factors that may influence the success or failure of the change being contemplated. However, Force Field Analysis requires the total participation of all those engaged in the process in order to obtain the precise information required for an effective evaluation. With many individuals within an organisation hostile to change, this often means less than full participation occurring, which results in an evaluation that does not provide a realistic overview of the driving and resisting forces (Chou & Zolkiewski, 2012). This analysis may also not reach consensus within a group, and could it even cause organisational division between those who support and those who oppose the decision.
Force Field Analysis was originally used in Lewin’s work within the field of social psychology, however, it has made significant contributions within the fields of social sciences, psychology, community psychology, communications, process management, organisational development and most prominently, within change management. Lewin’s Force Field Analysis has become a staple tool in the field of change management, due to its use in evaluating the internal and external drivers and resistors of change and providing a quantitative weighting mechanism for organisations to use in addressing and rebalancing the driving and resisting forces (Cronshaw & McCulloch, 2008).
Conducting a Force Field Analysis involves five steps: outlining a plan, identifying forces for change, identifying forces against change, assigning scores, and analysing and applying (Anderson & Tushman, 1991). Outlining a plan involves defining the businesses goals or vision of change and centring this within the planning process. This leads to identifying the forces for change, which are the driving forces for change and can be either internal or external. Internal drivers of change are factors such as outdated technology, declining morale or increased need to boost profitability, whilst external drivers of change involve a volatile operating environment, disruptive technology or fluctuating demographic trends. Following the mapping of drivers, the next stage is to identify the forces against change, which includes internal and external factors. Internal resistors of change are uncertainty surrounding the unknown, rigid existing organisational structures, and a resistant to change operating culture, whilst external resistors of change includes existing commitments to partner organisations, restrictive government legislation and customer obligations. This results in a list of drivers and resistors, in which the next stage is to score each force on a Likert scale (1 = Weak, 5 = Strong), relative to the degree of influence each factor has on the strategic plan. This Force Field Analysis provides the organisation with two uses, to either decide to move forward or not with the outlined change, or to consider the drivers that can be strengthened or resistors which can be weakened in order to make the change more successful (Rosenberg & Mosca, 2011).
Anderson, P. & Tushman, M., 1991. Managing Through Cycles of Technological Change. Research Technology Management, 34(3), pp. 26-31.
Chou, H. H. & Zolkiewski, J., 2012. Managing Resource Interaction as a Means to Cope with Technological Change. Journal of Business Research, 65(2), pp. 188-195.
Cronshaw, S. F. & McCulloch, A. N. A., 2008. Reinstating the Lewinian Vision: From Force Field Analysis to Organization Field Assessment. Organization Development Journal, 26 (4), p. 89–103.
Lewin, K., 1943. Defining the 'Field at a Given Time'. Psychological Review. , 50(3), p. 292–310.
Mayon-White, M. C., 1993. Managing Change. 2nd ed. Milton Keynes: Paul Chapman Publishing Ltd..
Rosenberg, S. & Mosca, J., 2011. Breaking Down the Barriers to Organizational Change. International Journal of Management and Information Systems, 3(139-155), p. 15.
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