Force Field Analysis: The Ultimate How-to Guide


The Force Field Analysis is a tool that enables a change practitioner to visually map and analyze the driving and resisting forces behind a project or initiative.

The model portrays driving forces (those that are working in the direction of the change) and resisting and/or restraining forces (those that tend to support the status quo). These are arranged as a field of opposing forces, or as a “force field.”

In this article I’ll cover what the Force Field Analysis tool is, why you should use it, but how to use it as well as a real-life case study of where I used this exact tool on a project.

Force Field Analysis is a powerful decision-making tool widely used in organizational change management, originally developed by Kurt Lewin as a change management model in 1951. It’s used to understand problem-based, situations in social science to effect planned change.

Today, Force Field Theory is still used to understand most organizational change processes.

The Field Field Analysis tool for change management was created by Kurt Lewin.

Known as one of the modern pioneers in social, organizational and applied psychology, Kurt Lewin, a German-American psychologist (born in Poland in 1890), was a professor at the University of Berlin between 1926 and 1932 before moving to the United States in 1933.

Lewin worked as a professor in a number of US universities before eventually becoming director of the Centre for Group Dynamics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

For more on Kurt Lewin, check out this in-depth training guide on Kurt Lewin’s Change Model.

What is Force Field Analysis

Lewin’s basic premise with Force Field Analysis was simple. A given situation is the way it is, (at any specific point in time) because of counterbalancing forces. These ‘forces’ are not necessarily physical pressures but instead a broad range of influences and circumstances that are keeping it that way.

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In other words, the two sets of forces will work together to keep an equilibrium or status quo.

 Figure 1:  Force Field Analysis  – Towards a Desired State

So, if an organization strives to keep equilibrium, it will work to maintain the balance. If on the other hand, an organization wants to create change, then it needs to unbalance and disrupt the equilibrium.

Generally, this is achieved by strengthening Driving forces (one of the balancing forces) so they are stronger than the Restraining forces (the other balancing force).

What are Driving Forces?

Driving forces push to influence a situation in a particular direction.  Driving forces work to support a stated goal or objective. They are usually seen as ‘positive’ forces that facilitate change.  Examples of some Driving forces include:

  • new personnel
  • changing markets
  • new technology
  • competition
  • pressure from management
  • incentives

Others may include:

  • politics
  • legislation
  • shareholders
  • public opinion

What are Restraining Forces?

Restraining forces work to block or counter progress towards a goal or objective.  They tend to limit or decrease the Driving forces. Examples of Restraining forces include:

  • an individual’s fear of failure
  • organizational inertia or apathy
  • hostility

Changing the Equilibrium

As a change management tool, Lewin’s Force Field Analysis is used to evaluate the forces FOR (Driving forces) and AGAINST (Restraining forces) a change. Before they are evaluated, though, they need to be identified.  This can be done through these types of analyses:

  • SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats)
  • PRIMO-F (People, Resources, Innovation, Marketing, Operations, Finance)
  • PESTLE (Political, Economic, Social, Technology, Legal, Environmental)

For change to be successful (i.e. shifting the equilibrium to a new desired state), you need to:

  • Strengthen the Driving forces
  • Weaken the Restraining forces
  • Or do both

You can represent this in a diagram.  It will help you understand where an imbalance can be created in the quasi-equilibrium (current state) to effect the change.

Using the diagram, you plot the forces.  Doing this helps you in your understanding of a complex environment.  You can then use this visual to facilitate discussion with key decision-makers before an action plan is devised.

Figure 2:  Force Field Analysis Model for Manufacturing

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According to Lewin, three steps are needed to achieve change towards a vision or goal in an organizational change context. These are to:

  1. Unfreeze – the organization has to unfreeze the Driving and Restraining forces that hold it in a state of quasi-equilibrium
  2. Change – an imbalance is introduced to the forces so change can take place (increase the Drivers, reduce the Restraints or do both)
  3. Refreeze – once the change is complete, the forces are brought back to quasi-equilibrium and the state is refrozen.

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Why use Force Field Analysis?

A key benefit of Lewin’s Force Field Analysis is that it is really useful to help us understand:

  • how to move people through change
  • why people resist change
  • how we can analyze the pressures ‘for’ and ‘against’ change (the pros and cons)
  • how we can apply a better decision-making technique
  • how we can communicate go/no-go decisions

Lewin’s Force-Field Analysis has us focus on the critical components to create change.  It does this by:

  • Analyzing the Driving and Restraining forces that affect a transition from the current state to the future state. Restraining forces may include reactions from those who see change as ‘unnecessary’ or constituting a ‘threat’
  • Assessing Driving and Restraining forces.  Which ones are critical?
  • Taking steps to increase critical Driving forces and decrease critical Restraining forces

Source:  Lewin, K. (1951) Field Theory in Social Science, Harper & Row, New York

Other benefits Force Field Analysis provide are that it helps to:

  • align a group on the change
  • galvanize the group to take action – change is often harder than first thought
  • develop robust plans to fully address the issues that are holding back the change
  • identify stakeholders (never miss a stakeholder!)
  • enable everyone to develop and realize a future that aims to fulfil interest or importance for relevant parties

So how does Force Field Analysis work in practice?

Let’s look at a financial institution case study …

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Case Study: 5 Steps to Fast and Dramatic Change using Force Field Analysis

Here’s a real application of this tool I used on a financial operation project:

Working on a process re-engineering project in the collections department of a bank, I’d spent five months with the team to develop an automated ‘skip’ tracing system (called ‘skips’).  These are used to find debtors that no longer have contact details.

I didn’t want to leave implementation to chance.  So instead, I aimed for a collaborative, well-considered implementation.

I got the stakeholders (ranging from senior managers to frontline staff) together in a room.  We walked through the change using Force Field Analysis as the tool of choice to plan it.

Results speak for themselves:

And this led to … reduced “write-offs” (total of $25.02m per year) for:

  • the bank’s personal loan book – $9.54m per year
  • their credit card’s portfolio – $15.48m per year

Those results are nice but what about the change implementation?

Well, it was embraced better than I could have imagined. Here’s why I believe it worked extremely well …

What I did (and you can too):

Step 1:  I kicked things off by having the frontline teamwork on the solution. By having the people impacted part of the solution, they’re more likely to be engaged and less likely to resist.

They were a part of it.

Step 2:  I got the frontline team into a room and placed two pieces of butcher’s paper on the wall.  One was labeled ‘Driving Forces (Aids)’ and the other was labeled ‘Restraining Forces (Barriers)’.

Step 3:  Together, we brainstormed a list for each category.

Here’s what we came up with:

Aids and Barriers Analysis

Figure 3:  Aids and Barriers Analysis

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Step 4:  Next, we converted this analysis into a plan.

 High-Level Action Plan

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Step 5:  Finally, we implemented the plan!

Now, it’s your turn …

How you can do a Force-Field Analysis?

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Easy.  In these steps:

  1. Describe (in a few words) your issue or proposal for change
  2. Identify the forces ‘FOR’ change
  3. Identify the forces ‘AGAINST’ change
  4. Rate the remaining items
  5. Implement the plan!

Step 1.   Describe your change

Get your team members and organizational subject matter experts involved to harness their expertise.

Put a sheet of butcher’s paper up on a wall.  In the center of the sheet, draw a box and write in your goal or vision for the change.

Step 2.    Identify the forces ‘for’ change

Now, think about the forces that are driving the change.  These can be internal or external factors.

As a group, brainstorm and identify as many factors as you can.  Ask these questions to help identify the forces:

  • What business benefits will this change deliver?
  • Who is ‘for’ the change? Why?
  • Who is ‘against’ it?  Why?
  • Do we have the resources to make the change work?
  • What costs and risks are involved?
  • What business processes will be impacted?

List these forces driving change on the left-hand side of the box.

Step 3.   Identify the forces ‘against’ change

Now, brainstorm internal and external forces that restrain or are unfavorable to the change.

A common internal example that many organizations cite is, “that’s not how we do things around here” (inflexible attitudes).  Similarly, an external example may be government legislation changes.

List these Restraining forces on the right-hand side of the box.  You can group similar items together to get the main theme.

Next, look at your main themes.  Remove any items that you have no control over.

Step 4.   Rate the remaining items

Now, the fun begins!

Rate each remaining force with say, one (lowest impact) to five (highest impact).  The goal here is to determine how much influence each force has on the plan.

Add up the ‘for’ and ‘against’ scores.

This should now give you a clear picture of influence that each force has on the change.  This picture should also allow you to decide to move forward with the decision or change it.

Step 5.   Implement the plan!

If you are to move forward, the next step is to create an action plan.  This plan needs to weaken or remove Restraining forces and strengthen Driving forces and so increasing the ‘net’ force for the change.

Some analysis may suggest changes you might like to make to the initial plan to give some flexibility.  This will help to ensure its success.  For example, if your project is going to introduce some new technology pivotal to business survival in the digital economy,  you will need to ensure staff are on board with the change.

So, what needs to be done?

Staff need to be trained.  Training incurs a ‘cost’ to the organization.  Let’s say one of your main themes is ‘Costs’ and let’s say they are already at a ‘3’.

You’ll need to add ‘1’ to ‘Costs’ because your training costs are to increase.

So, ‘Costs’ = 4 (i.e. 3 + 1 = 4).

However, if your staff fear technology, then training might take longer as people learn to manage their fear as they learn new ways of doing things.  Therefore, technophobia reduces overall benefits so we need to subtract ‘2’ from ‘4’.  Training, however, supports the change. So, ‘Costs’ are now at ‘2’.

You will need to prioritize your action steps.

Which ones will enable you the greatest impact?

What resources will you need and how will you implement these steps?

Finally, you will need to assess your progress to determine the success of actions you have decided.

Further Reading:

Lewin, K. (1951) ‘Field Theory in Social Science’, Harper and Row, New York.

Maslen R. and Platts K.W. (1994) ‘Force Field Analysis:  A Technique to Help SMEs Realize Their Intended Manufacturing Strategy’, in Operations Strategy and Performance, 1st European Operations Management Association Conference, University of Cambridge, June, pp. 587-588.

Thomas, J. (1985) ‘‘Force Field Analysis:  A New Way to Evaluate Your Strategy’, Long Range Planning, Vol. 18, No. 6, pp. 54-59.

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