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The #NowIUnderstand glossary: The Beckhard-Harris formula for change D x V x F > R

In a perpetually changing world, businesses must constantly reinvent themselves if they want to stay competitive. Adapting to this mad dash is a key organisational and managerial concern, and sometimes results in radical change. The impact of such change, and resistance to it, must be anticipated if the outcome is to be successful. A well-known formula exists that is perfectly suited to this exercise, namely the Beckhard-Harris formula for change D x V x F > R.

The formula for change: rooted in pragmatism

A number of alternative terms exist for the formula for change, such as the “change model” or the “change equation”, preceded by the names Beckhard-Harris or otherwise. They all refer to the same simple and powerful tool that provides a first impression of the starting situation and the possibilities for change within a business or an organisation.

Devised in the 1960s by David Gleicher then refined in the 1980s by Kathie Dannemiller, the formula for change was truly popularised by Richard Beckhard and Reuben T. Harris in 1987 in their book entitled “Organizational Transitions: Managing Complex Change”.

The formula offers a simplified analysis of the conditions governing the potential success or failure of a given change initiative as follows:

D x V x F > R

The model rests on the assumption that organisations or individuals only change when:

  • Dissatisfaction: there is dissatisfaction when there is a situation that people want to change;
  • Vision: people share a reasonably clear vision of a future situation that is both better and achievable;
  • First steps: the action plan to achieve the vision is acceptable and sets out the first steps to be taken;
  • Resistance: the combined strength of the three factors above is greater than the existing resistance to change.

Explanation of the components in the D x V x F > R formula

The aim of the formula is to help those running transformation projects to take stock of the exact situation, in order to then make the right decisions in keeping with the final objective. In fact, the assessment made of the first three variables should be sufficiently accurate to ensure resistance to change is overcome, otherwise the success of any transformation project will be in jeopardy.

Is dissatisfaction high enough?

The level of dissatisfaction with the current situation needs to be high enough for employees to acknowledge a need for change. Often, a situation is viewed as inconvenient or sub-optimal, but changing it seems even more painful or to require even more effort than tolerating the status quo. Sometimes, individuals are quite simply unaware that change has become inevitable, or even vital. It is therefore important to leave enough time to secure acceptance of that change.

Is there a clear vision?

Frequently, the impetus for change comes from senior management, but for the desire for change to be shared, employees must first accept the objective to be achieved. This entails reassuring them as regards both their contribution to the change and their future role once it has occurred. As in any project, it is crucial not to skip over the internal communication aspect.

What are the first steps to be taken?

For a change management project to get off to a good start, the first steps required to achieve the objective set must be both known and accepted by the staff involved. In this case, the incremental Kaizen method is a welcome approach, as excessively large “leaps” can cause anxiety and discourage staff, whereas baby steps always seem easier in preparing the way for change.

Resistance to change, an all-too-human characteristic

Human nature really is risk averse. Whether referred to as the status quo or a comfort zone, many people are more motivated by avoiding loss than they are by seeking gains and improvements. Resistance to change is therefore a natural reaction, which justifies ensuring projects are properly prepared and supported.

Through an analysis of the three first variables found in the formula for change, employees gain a better understanding of why change is necessary, the practical measures to take in preparation, and their role in achieving the objectives. The fact remains the formula is a multiplication, so if one of the first three variables equals zero, the product itself is also equal to zero. All aspects must therefore be given a value if resistance to change is to be overcome.

Formula for change: take the business and individuals into account

In contrast, project managers must be able to take a step back from the formula and adapt their observations to their own organisation. It can be difficult to objectively analyse the variables in the formula.

The model should therefore serve as a guide to assessing stakeholders’ resistance to change as effectively as possible from two separate points of view, namely that of the business and that of individuals.

Evaluating dissatisfaction

  • From the business’ point of view: accept there is a need for change and the consequences that entails.
  • From the individual’s point of view: have sufficient critical self-awareness to be able to change one’s behaviour.

Sharing the vision

  • From the business’ point of view: define the direction being taken, so as to be able to properly explain the objectives to be achieved.
  • From the individual’s point of view: accept new roles and new behaviours to be adopted.

Taking the first steps

  • From the business’ point of view: design and circulate the action plan.
  • From the individual’s point of view: understand and implement the various steps needed to reach the objective set.

For more information and to reduce the risks hanging over your transformation projects, feel free to read our latest expert view with practical advice from the consultancy Adix to get your projects (back) on the right track.

Download our expert view to make your transformation projects a success