Force field analysis is a change management technique which was originally conceived by the psychologist Kurt Lewin for use in social situations. It displays and analyses the forces driving movement toward a goal (helping forces) or restraining movement toward the goal (hindering forces).
We can use it as a business management tool in any situation where we are planning a major change. We start by drawing a big block. This represents the change we want to implement. Then we list all the driving forces for the change. These can be arguments in favour of the change, benefits of the change and also groups or individuals who will support or benefit from the change. We rank these by giving each force a number from 1 to 10; the stronger the force, the higher the number.
Next we list all the hindering or restraining forces. These are the drawbacks, risks, costs and reasons not to make the change. We also list those groups, departments or individuals who might oppose the change or suffer some negative consequence of the change. Once again we rate these forces from 1 to 10 depending on the strength of the forces. We then draw all the forces as arrows bearing onto the block in the middle as shown in the diagram.
We can now think of the change as being a huge block of stone that we want to move from the current state to a future desired state. If it is to move then the driving forces must be greater than the restraining forces. We can do this in two ways; by reinforcing the driving forces or by weakening the restraining forces.
We now brainstorm each item in turn starting with the largest forces. For each driving force we come up with ideas to make the force more powerful. For each hindering force we think of ideas to overcome or mitigate it. We can do this with post-it notes or on a flip chart. Finally we select the most effective ideas for all the forces and that becomes our action plan to improve implementation of the change.
It may seem odd that we list both rational reasons for and against the change, e.g. the return on investment and the cost of implementation, alongside departments or individuals who might support or oppose, e.g. the Head of Marketing and the CFO. But this works because it helps us to anticipate all the forces involved whether logical, emotional or political.
Carry out a Force Field Analysis at the very beginning of a project with a diverse team. It will help you to see the bigger picture, to identify and overcome obstacles and to develop a plan which will significantly increase the likelihood of a successful outcome.