The Founder/CEO of a flourishing non-profit organization dedicated to educating and feeding children in rural Kenya recently asked me what I had learned about leading an organization through a re-visioning process. My leadership experience for forty years was primarily in the realm of growth for youth ministries and churches, but the principles that worked in those contexts seem to be transferable to the profit and non-profit world as well. Now, as Director of Customer Engagement for a social e-commerce business, I’m finding that the same principles are very applicable in this world as well.
One of the most helpful/successful tools we employed was the simple, yet profound problem-solving model known as Force Field Analysis. Developed in the 1940’s, by American social psychologist, Kurt Lewin, this tool has made significant contributions to the fields of social science, psychology, social psychology, community psychology, organizational development, process management, and change management. It served to guide us and keep us focused through an excellent and helpful evaluation process, and facilitate prioritization of vital next steps and goals.
Lewin taught that an organization’s current status is held in balance by the convergence of two opposing sets of forces. One set, driving forces, was comprised of the attitudes, actions, and paradigms that seemed to move the organization toward the desired goal or outcome. The other set, restraining forces, were those obstacles that inhibited forward movement, and, if left unchecked, could cause decline.
He championed the concept that organizations were not static but dynamic, continually influenced by this balance of forces working in opposite directions. In order for the organization to move toward the desired future outcome, the driving forces had to prevail over the restraining forces.
Force Field Analysis Steps
Just to give a brief overview of how we would utilize this concept in seeking to stay on track in our vision toward our desirable outcome, we would typically:
1st, Revisit and re-assert our identity as an organization, represented by the left margin, and reach an agreement on where we were currently in our journey. This present status would be represented by a vertical line somewhere to the right of where we had started, but not all the way to the right margin.
2nd, Describe the desired outcome, situation or vision. This would be a vertical line on the right margin.
3rd, Discuss what could happen to our organization if we continued in the current condition and no changes were made.
4th, Compile a list of all the positive forces driving us toward the desired outcome.
5th, List all of the negative forces holding us back from progressing toward the vision.
6th, Assess the identified positive and negative forces according to validity, flexibility, and significance.
7th, Assign each force a score on a scale of 1-10, with 1 being weakest and 10 being most powerful.
8th, Chart all of the forces, with the driving forces on the left pushing the current state toward the right, and the restraining forces on the right, pushing back against the current state. (We would also indicate the level of strength of each force from the 7th step.
9th, Decide if progress toward the goal is realistic and achievable.
10th, Discuss how progress can be impacted by decreasing the strength of restraining forces and/or bolstering the driving forces.
11th, Prioritize and plan implementation of desired actions.
Lewin would also caution
It is important to remember that Lewin would also caution that fueling the driving forces or diminishing the restraining forces could increase or decrease other forces and even generate new ones.
We’ll go into more details on how to incorporate the Force Field Analysis model into various vision/problem-solving situations in our next blog. If you have questions about how to employ it, don’t hesitate to ask. We at PollCart welcome your inquiries and we’re constantly learning and growing along our own entrepreneurial journey.
If you’re a larger company, it is wise to identify a small visionary group of board members or staff to work together on the vision and strategic planning. We found that most of the time it was far more efficient and effective to work with a representative sub-team who would present their recommendations to the larger leadership team, board, and staff than to try to accomplish strategic planning with the whole gang.
How often should I revision?
How often should a company regroup and re-vision? Though we were constantly evaluating and strategizing, we seemed to go through a major regrouping, refocus, and re-vision every 1 to 3 years. That timing served us well and kept us moving forward with most team members enthusiastically engaged.
One piece of advice on leading successful change is to not call it change, but growth. “Change” can be kind of daunting/intimidating for some folks, but everyone knows it’s important to keep “growing.” Stagnant stuff dies or is dead already. If we’re alive as an organization we must grow, always being green.
It is vital that the growth sub-team do a good job of keeping the greater board or staff apprised of their progress along, and not wait until the final report. Though not everyone wants or needs to be in on the hard work of vision and strategic planning, they do all want and need to be included, engaged, and consulted along the way.
Another thought: be sure to have established and agreed upon core values before you launch any re-visioning. Everyone involved needs to affirm the non-negotiables of the organization.
Vision and strategic planning are vital to the relevance and life of any organization. A very wise man once said “without vision, the people perish.”
Enjoy the Journey!
Chuck Williams is the PollCart Engagement Director and retired pastor of Live Oak Community Church in Lubbock, Texas. His book Eternal Route 66 invites travelers to journey from Chicago to Los Angeles while introducing the Bible’s books. Chuck’s entrepreneurial spirit was inherited by his son Rich, creator of PollCart.