January 13, 2022 | 3-minute read (507 words)
In his 1951 book, "Field Theory in Social Science," social scientist Kurt Lewin introduced the notion of force field analysis to the world. Today, corporate leaders and managers still use the approach to mitigate resistance to change and increase organizational performance.
The premise of force field analysis is there has to be a balance between the forces that drive change and the forces that resist it. For change to occur, either the driving forces or the resisting forces must be increased or decreased.
A force field analysis can benefit business leaders by:
• Reducing barriers to change. Understanding the forces deterring someone from reaching their goals illuminates what can be done to overcome those obstacles.
• Reducing resistance to change. Employee resistance is a common stumbling block to organizational change, and it frequently emerges as a primary obstructive force in a force field analysis. Exploring the reasons behind staff’s reluctance can help managers develop strategies to overcome it.
• Making informed choices. The force field analysis provides information that helps leaders and other stakeholders make better decisions.
• Solving problems. Decision-makers can better grasp the nature of a business challenge and as a result, propose better solutions by analyzing both the helpful and the hindering variables.
• Creating a communication strategy that works. Mindsets and attitudes are frequently cited as roadblocks in the workplace. Leaders and managers can create more effective change management communication plans by understanding the nature of those emotions.
• Estimating costs. A force field analysis enables leaders to understand what kind of resources are needed to curtail hindering forces and facilitate amenable forces.
How to drive change using a force field analysis
Three basic steps comprise the force field analysis: unfreeze, modify and refreeze. These steps can help managers lead employees through change and foster more effective decision-making.
Unfreeze – When preparing for change, businesses should first unfreeze existing methods and perceptions. This allows them to address the challenge or task with a clean slate and without bias. Past processes, behaviors, people, ways of thinking and organizational structures should be extensively reviewed to illustrate the need for change to maintain or establish a competitive advantage in an evolving world.
Change – Once the team is no longer frozen, it's time to initiate change. According to Lewin, this is the most challenging step to complete because it tends to be fraught with uncertainty and anxiety. In this step, employees begin to learn new procedures, behaviors and ways of thinking. Employees will need clear and consistent communication as they adjust to the change, both during and after implementation.
Refreeze – Once all of the changes to processes, behaviors and ways of thinking have been accepted, the new status quo is locked into place. Refreezing ensures that businesses do not revert to their old practices when the change was implemented.
The force field analysis is a basic, easy-to-use method that helps company leaders quickly assess a proposed change initiative. By understanding which forces help and impede change, they can determine whether the change should be implemented and what steps are needed for success.