Force field analysis is a change and decision making tool that was originally developed by Kurt Lewin in the 1940s. It helps individuals and leaders identify and visualize the forces driving and restraining a specific change.

Summary by The World of Work Project

Force Field Analysis

Force field analysis is a useful tool for evaluating proposed changes. It looks at the forces driving the change and the forces resisting the change and considers their relative strengths. The output of this analysis is a visual indication of the ease of implementing the change. It also shows specific forces that could be strengthened or reduced to make the implementation of change easier.

Once the driving and restraining forces related to a change have been identified, it’s possible to get a sense of how easy change will be. To do this simply assign scores to the various forces. You then need to sum these scores up to give a total score for the driving and restraining forces.

A diagram showing two sets of forces as per force field analysis

If the driving forces are stronger than the resisting forces, the change should be fairly easy to implement. If the forces are balanced, or the resisting forces are stronger, the change will be hard to implement.

Force field analysis also helps those seeking to introduce changes to do so successfully. The analysis it produces helps change agents see the various levers they have to help them implement the change. Based on the analysis, they can look to either strengthen the driving forces or reduce the restraining forces. If they do this well they may help ensure the change is successfully accepted and implemented.

Driving and Restraining Forces

The specific forces relating to each proposed change will be unique. These forces should be identified through discussion with relevant stakeholders. This can be achieved through a brainstorming sessions, surveys, interviews or similar means. Forces can be either internal or external to the organization.

A person driving representing the driving side of force field analysis
Nothing to look at here, just a dude driving some change.

Though each change situation you encounter is unique, we’ve pulled together a list of potential forces you might wish to consider when performing a force-field analysis.

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Internal Forces for or Against Change

  • A general sense that the business could “do better”,
  • Desire to increase profitability and other performance measures,
  • The need to reorganize to increase efficiency and competitiveness,
  • Natural ageing and decline in a business (e.g. machinery, products)
  • Conflict between departments,
  • The need for greater flexibility in organizational structures, and
  • Concerns about ineffective communication, de-motivation or poor business relationships.

A ball and chain representing the restraining side of force field analysis
Looks like a restraining force to me.

External Forces for or Against Change

  • Increased demands for higher quality and levels of customer service,
  • Uncertain economic conditions,
  • Greater competition,
  • Higher cost of inputs,
  • Legislation & taxes,
  • Political interests,
  • Ethics & social values,
  • Technological change,
  • Globalization,
  • Scarcity of natural resources, and
  • Changing nature and composition of the workforce.

Learning More

Organizational change is complex and hard to lead. You might find our posts on the Mckinsey 7S model and the similarities between change models interesting.

Several of the leading models of change may not have not been critiqued sufficiently. The below podcast casts a critical eye over the field of organizational change.

The World of Work Project View

Force field analysis is a simple but useful tool. It can be used at a reasonably strategic level when planning the design and implementation of a change. Alternatively, it can be used at an operational level in a facilitated workshop or team meeting.

It produces useful outcomes in both the overall assessment of the forces relating to a change and in the identification of specific forces that can be targeted to improve the ease with which a change can be implemented.

It’s not easy to get a complete list of forces or detailed and specific measurements of their strengths, but the tool works very well as an indicative tool. The visual nature of the output is helpful.

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The contents of this post have been based on interpretations of the force field analysis concept as originally created by Kurt Lewin. You can read more in chapter 8 of Lynn Fossam’s book: “Understanding Organizational Change: Converting Theory to Practice”.

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