Saturday July 12, 2014


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Pushing that rock uphill – making change happen

Taking Care of Business

There are a lot of business books with models for all kinds of business processes. Iím not always a big fan, but Iíve been working lately with the Lewin Force Field Analysis, and this is one I really like because itís understandable, easy to use, and most importantly, itís worked very well for my clients.

It seems very simple on the face of it: know where you are and where you want to be, then encourage the drivers that will help you get there and suppress those that will get in your way. Translated in to an algebraic equation it looks like this: x(a-b)=y or even: x(2a-0.5b)=y

In this equation, x is where you are, y is where you want to be, and a & b are the drivers that either push you toward your goal, or prevent you from getting there. In the second equation, you are working to increase the positive drivers and decrease the negative ones. Positive driving forces might be a high functioning team, innovative product development, technology advancements, sales performance, strong name recognition or good cash management. Restraining forces might include poor quality control, inefficiency, process or knowledge gaps, a stressful environment or unclear goals.

Most people who are willing to be strategic about managing change tend to have a pretty good sense of where they are. And they are usually aware of the drivers that propel them forward to success. The trick is in the other two parts of the equation.

First, many business owners only have a vague sense of where they want to be. For some it might be to double revenue or to capture a certain market segment. In order to achieve real change you must be more specific. For instance you might double revenue by adding two product lines that you can name, or by tangibly improving customer service in order to increase repeat purchases among your most profitable customers. Your vague goal to double revenue then becomes a specific goal to add product lines or develop a new set of customer service practices.

The second part of the change equation business owners often struggle with is seeing and managing the negative forces that hold them back. Our business weaknesses are often reflections of our own weaknesses. If Iím not a good manager, or I have cash flow problems, I might avoid thinking about these things as much as I should. Sometimes the things that make a business strong when it is young and small can be the very things that hold it back as it gets bigger. Whatever the weakness, it can be difficult to see accurately when you are too close, and old patterns die hard, but the leader brave enough to evaluate the business and themselves honestly can achieve more than those who wonít.

Once you have done the work of identifying where you are going and what will get you there, youíre ready to develop strategies that will:

1. Ensure the driving forces are more powerful than the resisting forces.

2. Add driving forces.

3. Remove or minimize resisting forces.

You can start here:

1. List all the forces driving change toward the desired state. Add any that are missing.

2. List all the forces resisting or blocking movement toward the desired state.

3. Evaluate each force. Is it valid? Can it be changed, added or eliminated? Which are the critical ones?

4. Allocate a score to each of the forces. Try using a scale of 1-5 where 5 is very positive and 1 is very damaging.

5. Develop a strategy for increasing the favourable forces and decreasing the undesirable ones.

Depending on the issues youíre dealing with you may determine the best course of action is to address each issue separately, but more often than not a unified approach works better. A few years ago I was working with a company that was growing quickly with a desired state to increase sales through more innovative projects. To do this successfully we needed to add a number of project managers. Because we didnít plan properly we didnít recognize our leadership or customer service weaknesses until we had new staff we couldnít properly support. Intuitively we relied on our strong team to get us through, but it took us a while to figure this out and only then did we put systems in place to make the team work better while our management got a little more training and we could develop better customer services practices. In the process we lost one of the better project managers and probably more than one good contract. Had our goal been bigger the damage that resulted from our poor planning might have been bigger too.

It takes time to self-evaluate, but the process can be both rewarding and profitable because it enables you to fix things that are wrong and improve things that are good, which inevitably enables your business to achieve itís goals.

Elizabeth Bowker is a Principal at Blue Moon Management Inc. which specializes in helping small and medium sized companies achieve profitable and sustainable growth, through coaching, consulting and training. Stay tuned for our upcoming business seminars in Fort St. John. In the meantime, contact us with your questions and to ask about a free consultation:



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