As we move further into the 21st Century, the realities of change in any business setting are becoming increasingly unavoidable. Although we often the see the good that results from change-after the fact-humans still resist change when it is about to happen. Thus, the entrepreneur and the business manager must plan for any major change thoughtfully and carefully, thinking carefully about the sources of human opposition both inside and outside the organization. For most of us in business leadership positions, this type of planned change is a real challenge. If not managed correctly, the whole situation could blow up. For an employee, the process requires a sense of flexibility, team spirit, and-often-adventure.
Change is a necessary part of doing business. Yet members of an organization can get so comfortable with things the way they are, that it becomes easy to ignore warning signs that something has to change. One helpful approach to implementing change, developed by psychologist Kurt Lewin, is the concept of force field analysis. The technique is illustrated as a model below. According to this model, the status quo is like a battlefield being fought for by two armies: the driving forces and the restraining forces. The driving forces are trying to take over the status quo, and the restraining forces are trying to defend it.
In today’s world, staying with the status quo (the way things already are) is simply not realistic. As mentioned above, today’s world has too many “white water rapids” for that kind of complacency. However, the driving forces generally face the opposition of the restrainers. The task is to build up the driving forces or to decrease the restraining forces in order to win, much as in a real battle. If driving and restraining forces are equal in strength, no change will take place, only frustration on both sides.
The driving forces can be strengthened in several ways. One method is through planning. A careful plan for change will usually cause the driving forces to emerge. If resistance takes place, more driving forces must be added. Another method is to improve the quality of the driving forces. Diminishing the restraining forces involves persuasion, showing the benefits of change-in short, eliminating the many factors that keep change from happening.
Force field analysis is positive in three ways. First, it engages the changers in planning for the change. Second, it allows those who are organizing the change to take a close look at the forces likely to restrain them and to put together a strategy to overcome that restraint. Third, it can cut down considerably on the conflict that might otherwise happen. Analyzing the restraining forces before a conflict starts can keep the conflict from beginning at all.
It is my hope that this deceptively simple model can help you next time you need to make a change in your organization.
Lowell H. Lamberton if a professor of management at COCC and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 383-7714.