Who's Equation is it?
The change equation is referred to variously as the Beckhard-Harris Change Mode, the Beckhard change formula or simply the formula for change. Curiously, whilst it is Beckhard who has his name attributed to the equation, it was actually David Gleicher of Arthur D. Little who created a version of the formula in the 1960s. The formula has been through several iterations since - most significantly by Dannemiller and Jacobs in 1992.
What is the Change Equation?
The change equation is a simple model for explaining organizational change. The model asserts that there are three factors that need to be present before change can happen successfully. There needs to be a dissatisfaction with the status quo, there needs to be a clear vision of what is possible and there needs to be an understanding of what the first basic steps are that need to be taken. The model shows that if these three factors are not present, then resistance to change will not be overcome and the change will fail. The model takes the form of an algebraic equation as shown:
- D is dissatisfaction with the status quo
- V is a vision of what is possible
- F is knowledge of the first practical steps
- R is the resistance to change
Change will only occur if D x V x F > R
There are a couple points that are worth noting about the equation. The first of these is that the three factors are multiplied together, not added together. As we recall from our school days, any number multiplied by zero equals zero. Therefore the model is saying that all three factors are required for change to overcome resistance and be successful. Super-high dissatisfaction with the status quo is not enough for change to happen - there needs to be a vision, and the first steps need to be understood.
When should I use the Beckhard Change Equation?
The model is useful to test whether a change initiative is likely to succeed: if one of the three elements is missing, then the change is likely to fail. It can also be used during a program of change to assess which levers can be used to increase the probability of a successful change outcome.
The equation is simple enough to be communicated quickly to an audience, but this simplicity can also be the model's weakness. It ignores many other factors that are considered necessary for change to be successful. I recommend using this model in conjunction with other models such as Kotter's Eight Step Model, which you can find here: