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Our drivers (and barriers) of change

Why are we putting our resources and energy into making this change? This is the first question people will ask us, and it’s a good question. Without knowledge of the forces that are driving our change it’s hard to articulate why we are doing it.

In contrast, with a good understanding of these forces, we can identify and articulate why we are embarking on a particular change. This is essential to get the broader leadership team and staff onboard and for keeping the momentum of the change going.

There are also going to be barriers to our change. It’s important that we be conscious of these as they can stop the change from getting off the ground, slow it down, or stop it altogether (keeping in mind there are sometimes good reasons for slowing down or stopping a change). Understanding the barriers to the change helps us better understand why the change might not be desirable for some people and to find ways to mitigate or remove these barriers.

There are two types of drivers and barriers of change:

External forces are the main factors influencing the need to change from outside the organization such as the social, demographic, political, legal, economic, technological, cultural and business environments. Many people will recognize that these forces do create pressure on the organization and raise expectations for change.

Internal forces are the main factors influencing the need to change coming from within the organization such as the strategy, mission, mandate, values, culture, workplace climate, structure, processes, and skillsets.

How do we identify our drivers and barriers?

One way to identify drivers and barriers is by using a force field analysis (a technique developed by Kurt Lewin). A force field analysis template typically looks like this:

A square box with the text "proposed change" in the middle. On the left are arrows depicting the pressure that the drivers of change are putting on us to go through with the change. On the right are arrows depicting the pressure or inertia against the change.

In this example the drivers are on the left and the barriers are on the right. The longer the arrow, the more impactful the force of the driver or barrier is. The overall weight of all the drivers and barriers is summed at the bottom, which can give us a good sense of the current practicality of the proposed change.

The goal here is to have conversations with leadership and appropriate stakeholders to get a shared sense of the practicality of the change and where we may need to put more time and resources.

When we have these conversations with the leadership team and/or stakeholders, it’s helpful to follow these steps:

  1. Determine who will take part in the exercise

Involving representatives from various groups (e.g. senior leadership, the change team, employees impacted by the proposed change, clients, etc.) will allow us to integrate multiple perspectives into our analysis.

This is where our previous segmentation might come in handy. The wider the participation in our discussions (within reason) on the drivers and barriers, the richer our analysis will be.

2. Define the proposed change

A clear, precise and succinct statement of the intended change will help participants stay on topic.

3. List the external drivers and barriers to change

We can lead the discussion by asking the following questions (we can modify, add, remove questions as fits the context):

  • What global and national trends (e.g., political, economic, social, technological, etc.) are influencing the need to change?
  • What trends in the government (e.g., overarching priorities, interdepartmental initiatives, bargaining rounds, workforce availability) are influencing the need to change?
  • What changes or trends in the industry (e.g., new technology and methods, new legal requirements, changes in client requirements) are influencing the need to change?

4. List the internal drivers and barriers to change

Once we broadly understand the external forces at play, we then examine the driving and restraining pressures coming from within the organization. In essence, we want to know which various internal aspects may influence the change and how.

Examples of aspects to consider:

Strategy, mission and mandate
Program and service policies
Legal framework
Internal structure and systems
Core competencies and skills
Use of technology
Culture, values and beliefs
Leadership style, mindsets and behaviour
Staff mindsets and behaviour
Internal politics
Labour relations
Overall organizational performance

5. Determine the overall impact of each force

Once we have gotten a good sense of our drivers and barriers, we can now estimate how much impact each force has on the change. Not all forces carry the same weight. One way to do so is to use a simple scale (either from 1 to 3 or from 1 to 5).

What’s important here is to make sure that everyone perceives the scale in the same way and that weight is applied with enough consistency.

As for the forces themselves, we don’t need everyone to necessarily agree on all of them. In fact this can sometimes give us a good indication of which forces the different stakeholders are more concerned with. Wildly different estimations of the drivers and barriers and their impacts indicates that some discussion to clarify these aspects of the change would likely be helpful.

That being said, we shouldn’t get bogged down by being overly analytical here. Getting a good sense of the similarities and differences, and documenting (from the discussions) how they impact the change and its adoption is enough to inform aspects of our strategy and future actions we will identify in the CM plan.

Now what do we do with this information?

Force field analysis is typically used to get clarity on what is playing for and against a specific change, before starting it. With this information in hand, we will be better able to design a change strategy and put measures in place to leverage these drivers and mitigate (or even eliminate) barriers to change.

Going through the process to validate these questions before implementing the change is an important step in our process. It might also be useful to do the exercise again at various points throughout the change process in order to take stock and determine if the drivers/barriers have changed. This is useful especially if some new forces emerges, or if there’s a significant impact increase or decrease for some existing forces.

Next steps
Based on what we have discovered is driving the change, we now have a better understanding that will help us articulate why the change is happening. This is what we’ll work on in the next section.

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