Forces of Change in Your Social Enterprise

Posted by on May 17, 2012 in Entrepreneurship

Making the transition from a pure non-profit to a social enterprise is not easy. Not only do you have to change your mindset about funding, you also have to change how you manage people, keep records, use facilities, lead the organization. It’s a whole new culture you are trying to create.

As with any change effort, you will encounter resistance; it comes with the territory. As much as you think some change is going to make sense for your people or for your organization, there are some in your organization who will resist this change.

“How can people resist such reasonable changes?” you ask. “It’s for the good of the organization. It’s for their own good, for goodness sake. If we don’t change, we might just go out of business, and then where would they be?”

Yes, reason seems to go out the window,when it comes to change.

Permanent Whitewater

First, a bit of context. What is the world in which people are experiencing the changes you want them to accept? In 1996, Peter Vaill wrote a book titled Learning as a Way of Being: Strategies for Survival in a World of Permanent White Water. Here’s a great summary of his ideas, as published by the Center for Creative Leadership.

Have you ever been white water rafting? If you’ve done it, you probably had a guide and it was actually a pretty controlled experience. You can even choose the level of rapids you want to experience. You may have experienced the routine of the white water rafting experience—-morning: lots of excitement, as you maneuver through white water rapids; lunch on a nice, quiet, picturesque island or river beach; afternoon, more white water excitement; evening: a beautiful dinner prepared by a great campfire by your guide.

That’s not the kind of white water experience your people are experiencing today. There are no picturesque beaches, quiet times of paddling in smooth waters, or cozy camp fires. It seems like change is assaulting them every day–at work, in their communities, even in their houses of worship.

So, it’s no wonder there is so much resistance to any kind of change today. There is so much change. People simply have a hard time taking it all in and making it work for them.

Force Field Analysis

One tool I have found in my consulting with a wide variety of organizations is the Force Field Analysis, developed by the pioneer social psychologist, Kurt Lewin. Lewin did most of his work in the 1930s and 1940s, a time that could also be described as a time of permanent white water. Here’s Mindtools’ webpage on Force Field Analysis. The page contains a link to a helpful worksheet, so you can do a Force Field Analysis yourself, and the page also contains a helpful video on how to use the concept of the Force Field Analysis.

The Force Field Analysis helps people understand the forces that are pushing for change (“driving” forces) and the forces that are resisting change (“barriers”). A driving force that may be affecting your social enterprise is the pressure to create new streams of revenue to replace the grant money you used to get. A barrier to change in your social enterprise might be the long-standing relationships that have developed among your board members. The board members are tight-knit and don’t want to rock the boat.

The natural tendency, when trying to bring about organizational change, is to push for the change. However, as Peter Senge pointed out in his book The Fifth Disciple, the harder you push for change, the more the system will push back, resisting the change.

So, the key to facilitating change, is to discover and remove the barriers, not push harder on the driving forces.

When you are considering the changes your organization must go through, give everyone a copy of the Force Field Analysis, and have them identify the forces they see pushing them to change, and the forces that are preventing them from embracing change. Having a discussion, using this tool, can be an empowering experience. People discover they are not alone in their frustration with change, and they will have a tool that will help them understand better why they are feeling so pressured, and how to creatively handle the forces at work in your social enterprise.

You may find that people are more welcoming of change, when they take some time to understand the dynamics of “drivers” and “barriers” to change.

For more on maneuvering through our time of permanent whitewater, contact Paul Hardt, Ed.D., at

Visit his website at

Image source: greghartmann

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