What Is a Force Field Analysis?

New York Times Wordle

All types of organizational change must contend with driving forces that promote change and restraining forces that inhibit change, according to the force field theory in social science. In order to determine what forces will have an impact on the change you want to see in your organization, you can use a decision-making tool called a force field analysis.


What Is a Force Field Analysis?

A change management model known as a force field analysis (FFA) dissects the forces that propel and restrain change. Kurt Lewin, a German-American social psychologist, proposed the force field theory of change to explain how conflicting forces can both compel change and solidify an organization's status quo. Lewin's force field analysis is still used today to guide organizational culture change initiatives by utilizing process management, market trends, and human psychology.

A list of benefits and drawbacks for change may be compared by some to a force field analysis tool, but the two tools operate in slightly different ways. Business leaders must first articulate the ideal state for their organization before beginning a force field analysis. A force field analysis allows leaders to brainstorm the various market forces, human needs, and business processes that will advance or block the desired outcome rather than listing the advantages and disadvantages of achieving that desired state.


What Is the Purpose of Force Field Analysis?

To provide a road map for action plans, organizations carry out force field analyses and create force field diagrams. Business leaders can see how their current state of equilibrium is not caused by inaction but by equal doses of opposing actions as they examine the positive and negative forces that influence change.

When businesses use force field analysis tools to launch a new initiative, they do so with an understanding of the current power dynamics, the forces that can accelerate change, and the forces that could stifle it. This cache of knowledge will guide leaders’ decision-making as they chart a path forward that embraces driving forces and steers around resisting forces.


Force Field Analysis Examples

Use the following examples to see how a force field analysis can help an organization make decisions:

1. Redesigning a website: Consider an e-commerce company that wants to update its website. It could use force field analysis tools to determine how likely they are to proceed with the redesigned site. New technology that makes a site rebuild more manageable, as well as external factors such as better websites appearing from competitors, could be driving forces. A high price tag, the risk of site bugs degrading the user experience, and internal satisfaction with the current situation—a website that still works perfectly well—could all be restraining forces to the proposed change.

2. Stadium construction: Assume a city is thinking about constructing a new stadium for its sports team. Rather than listing pros and cons or commissioning a SWOT analysis, the city can use a force field analysis to chart forces that could propel or kill a stadium initiative. The team chipping in for construction costs, real estate developers' interest in building condos around the stadium, and a deadline imposed by the sports league to either approve a stadium or risk losing the team could all be driving forces. Resisting forces include taxpayers who oppose all government spending and environmentalists who are concerned about the impact of construction on the city's waterways.

How to Conduct a Force Field Analysis

A force field analysis diagram can be created on a computer, a whiteboard, or a piece of paper. To analyze the forces driving and preventing change in your organization, follow these steps:

1. Create a diagram of a force field analysis. Draw three vertical columns to create your force field analysis. Your desired outcome is summarized in the center column. Your driving force for change will be in the leftmost column. Some people like to draw arrows pointing inward toward the column that summarizes your desired change.

2. Make a list of the changes you want to see. Put your desired outcome in the middle column. You can use full sentences or bullet points to outline your goal.

3. Make a list of the motivating factors. List the driving forces—money, new technologies, social movements, personnel, and so on—that can propel you toward the desired change in your left-hand column.

4. List the opposing forces. List the restraining forces—individuals, financial situations, special interest groups, social inertia, and more—that could stymie your change and entrench the status quo in your right-hand column.

5. Examine the forces. Examine the opposing forces on both sides of your force field analysis diagram. Take note of the total number of forces on each side as well as the quality of those forces. (For example, in a political campaign, small groups of dedicated activists may not have the same power as large groups of less vocal people who see an issue differently.) After considering the forces pushing in each direction, you should have a clear sense of whether or not to proceed with a change initiative. If you decide to go ahead, your force field analysis tool will assist you in navigating potential conflicts as you work toward long-term change.

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