Elastic Management

SuperLewinKurt Lewin is something of a hero to me, not least as the originator of one of my all time favourite quotes:

‘There is nothing so practical as a good theory’

This appeared in my intro to The Management Models Pocketbook and a blog I posted on my birthday.

So why come back to it now?  I want to look at one of Lewin’s best known models from a slightly unconventional angle, but let’s start with the basics.

Force Field Analysis

Lewin’s language derives from the world of physics; he talks of equilibrium and forces.  His metaphor is not, however, strained and works very well for me.  In his model, we (individuals and groups – even organisations) will be in equilibrium, unless a force acts upon us.

By equilibrium, he means that there will be no change.

Let’s get real!

In the real world, there are always forces acting upon us, so there is always change.  Lewin identifies two fundamental types of force:

Driving forces, which promote change

Restraining forces, which – take a guess – restrain it

ForceField

To understand the nature of change and how it is happening in an individual or a group, we need to inventory all of the driving and restraining forces, understand them, and assess the net direction and strength of the resultant force.

Under Pressure

Many of us in the worlds of business and public service are finding ourselves under a lot of pressure at the moment, and if you manage people, you may be putting them under pressure.  What can Lewin teach us about what is going to happen?

As we apply a driving force to our colleagues in times of pressure, many will respond and you will achieve the changes you need.  People are able to suppress their reaction to unwelcome pressure and hence you may not sense the restraining forces.  But they are there.  When you release the drive, as the pressure reduces, the elasticity of the restraining forces will show itself.

Two Tactics

How can you deal with this elasticity.  If you need to maintain your new productivity levels over a long term, you have only two options:

  1. You can maintain the driving forces
    We see this pretty often in organisations.  ‘Autocratic’ or ‘follow-me-the-superhero’ styles of leadership maintain long term pressure that can turn into stress and burn-out.  If you suspect you are in danger of causing this, you need to deal with it – quickly.
  2. You can release the restraining forces
    This is by far the harder tactic.  You need to understand what the forces are that pull back against your drive and address them one at a time.  So, longer hours may be mostly a problem because of a parent’s evening routine; so can you offer flexible hours to allow them to leave early?  A greater workload may frustrate someone who is angered by the slow running of an aged computer; so can you upgrade their equipment?

Welcome to the club

If you are anticipating 2011 will be a tough year for you, then welcome to a large club.  But don’t just despair or let events drive you.  Analyse and understand your situation, and take active steps to manage it.

This quarter, Pocketblog will be offering a range of solutions from the Management Pocketbooks library, to help you through.

Some Management Pocketbooks you might find helpful

The Managing Change Pocketbook

The Stress Pocketbook

The Motivation Pocketbook

The People Manager’s Pocketbook

The Tackling Difficult Conversations Pocketbook

Under Pressure? – take a break

For Queen fans

For music fans who aren’t so keen on Queen

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