Most people are required to make dozens of decisions over a given time. But how do you know if you’re making the right decision? One way to do this is by using something known as Force Field Analysis. This is essentially a change management model used for analyzing your situation and deciding whether or not a change needs to be made.
It was invented by German-American psychologist Kurt Lewin, who was a pioneer of social science and organizational psychology. According to this social psychologist, no situation presents itself as a static pattern. Instead, all situations exist in a state of equilibrium between supportive forces and opposing forces. These forces often pull us in opposite directions and exert a level of influence over human behavior. These internal drivers are why decision-making can be so difficult.
The five following steps describe how this tool works.
The 5 Steps Explained
The Force Field Analysis steps consist of the following:
- Start by looking at the forces which influence your current state, goal, or status quo.
- Divide these forces into things that drive you toward your goal or prevent you from reaching it.
- Brainstorm what forces are holding you back.
- Score the results.
- Use this analysis to make your decision.
#1: Describe Your New Desired State or Behavioral Change You’d Like to Make
The first step of this powerful technique for decision-making involves listing your current situation. This is done by drawing a box in the middle of a piece of paper and placing this information inside it (this is also known as the force field diagram).
In this box, you can list your present situation or desired change. Alternatively, you can write down a goal, ideal situation, or a list of things that need to change.
For example, a common business goal is wanting to increase your bottom line. When it comes to personal goals, you may want to lose weight or have problems in your relationship. No matter what the situation is, you’ll start by defining the problem and what you’d like to change about it.
a. Weight Loss: In this first case study, we’re looking at a person who is overweight. Most overweight people are desperate to slim down. Unfortunately, they often find this difficult. This is usually because people don’t want to alter their behavior or lifestyle. Maybe you enjoy eating unhealthy food, or you’re addicted to it. Another problem could be the unwillingness to exercise. In this example, the current situation could be listed as “I’m overweight,” and the desired change could be “I’m healthy and slim.” (Follow this weight loss example below through the steps.)
b. New York City Hospital Equipment Upgrade: This root cause analysis is often used in healthcare. For example, all hospitals need to upgrade equipment over time. The problem is that this is often easier said than done. There may be dozens of factors involved. These could include things such as the expense, lack of training, or the need for additional training. Here the given issue could be described as “old and outdated equipment” and the successful change as “updated equipment.” (Follow this hospital example below through the steps.)
c. Implementing Weekly Teacher Training: In our third example, a school wants to start additional training sessions for teachers. The purpose of this training is to find ways to integrate state test objectives into their teaching plans. As can imagine, many teachers may be resistant to this. Training could mean they have to take time out of their busy schedule or put in extra work. Opposing this is the need to improve their test scores, and therefore the quality of education. (Follow this teacher training example below through the steps.)
#2: What Forces Are Driving Change?
Next, brainstorm a list of driving forces behind this change, and place them to the left of your box. These might be internal factors such as inadequately trained and motivated staff or external factors such as the changing needs of your marketplace. When building this left column of forces, try to come up with as many as possible. The more, the better.
a. Weight Loss: There could be dozens of external drivers behind your desire to lose weight. For most people, the biggest force is appearance. Perhaps you’re sick to death of being fat and hate the way you look. There are also psychological and social forces at play, such as having a poor self-image, low self-esteem, and low or no self-confidence.
Social forces and cultural norms may include the bad reaction you get from other people. This can also include your family, friends, or spouse pressuring you to lose weight. Then you have things like embarrassment in social situations.
Another big factor is health considerations. Obesity can lead to things like diabetes, heart disease, and other illnesses. Finally, you have practical issues, like finding clothes you can fit into and the general burden of moving your body around.
b. New York City Hospital Equipment Upgrade: The biggest factor driving change is most likely the emergence of new diseases and conditions. You may need new equipment to treat these diseases. It could also be that new technology has been invented to treat old diseases. Along with this, new machines may increase your efficiency, or perhaps your old equipment no longer works as efficiently as possible.
What’s more, different factors behind the change may include the fact that you’re offering new services. For example, your hospital may be improving its given level of care or opening up an oncology unit. Finally, there could be more abstract reasons, such as your responsibility to offer the best possible care to patients.
c. Implementing Weekly Teacher Training: In this example, the desire to boost state test scores is probably the biggest motivating factor. Failure to do this may have negative consequences. For example, the school could lose funding. Teachers might be happy to meet weekly because they desire to improve education. Add to this the fact that they may already meet weekly for other purposes. In addition to this, the state could have the support of the principal. Finally, are teachers willing and highly motivated to reach the state’s desired goals?
#3: What Forces Are Preventing Change from Occurring?
The next step involves listing the restraining forces which are preventing change. These could include internal, psychological forces, such as the fear of change, or external factors, such as issues with customers, technology, or the marketplace. This list of opposing forces is placed on the right side of your box.
a. Weight Loss: There could be dozens of negative forces which prevent you from losing weight. The biggest is probably your love of unhealthy food. Other sets of forces could involve addiction issues, such as an addiction to junk food. You may also have issues with bad habits such as overeating or snacking.
Along with this, a big reason why people are overweight is that they don’t want to exercise. That being said, it could be more complicated. Maybe you don’t have time to exercise or the know-how. You might not have time to join a gym or purchase exercise equipment. Lack of time, money, and knowledge could also be the reason why you eat poorly.
b. New York City Hospital Equipment Upgrade: In the third step of Lewin’s force field analysis, you’ll list the external forces which prevent change. These go in your right column. In this situation, the biggest factor will be the amount of money needed to upgrade equipment. Different parts of this issue could include the difficulty of finding money in your budget or having to raise this money. Key stakeholders may also be against purchasing new equipment.
Another huge factor is training staff to use the equipment. This may involve spending additional time and money – something else which plays a huge role in disruption. Depending on the size of the equipment, installing it may require enormous amounts of effort. You may have to alter the hospital, either by finding more space or performing construction work.
c. Implementing Weekly Teacher Training: There could be many things opposing change or an ideal state. One of these could be the teachers’ reluctance to work with government officials. It may also take time to gather any data which these officials may need. Then there’s the stress factor. Teachers may find reaching certain objectives highly stressful and even impossible, depending on their students. They may lack the time needed to implement changes.
Teachers could also have a set way of doing things and have no interest in changing or improving. In fact, the school may have to change its entire organizational culture. One last thing to consider is this: teaching in a way that focuses on raising test scores might not be best for students. In fact, it might actually be detrimental to students.
#4: Give These Forces a Total Score
In step four, both forces to the left and right of your force field analysis diagram are given scores from one to five. These scores are based on the degree of influence they have on your situation.
For example, one indicates a weak force, while five indicates a strong force. It also helps to visually represent the degree of power each force has. To do this, draw arrows around each force. Use larger arrows for the most powerful and smaller arrows for lesser forces.
a. Weight Loss: You’ll now list these positive and resistant forces to the left and right of your box. Next, give each a score out of five, depending on the strength of the force. For example, for most people, food is the reason why they are overweight, so you’ll probably give that a five. Then you have a lack of exercise, which you may want to score as four.
In addition to this, you have social embarrassment. For many overweight people, this is only a minor issue, so you could give this factor a three (although this will vary from person to person). Go through each positive and negative factor, and list them to the left or right of the box, along with their score.
b. New York City Hospital Equipment Upgrade: You then need to list each factor on a numerical scale. As we’ve said, the biggest problem will probably be money. Training staff and reorganizing the hospital will, to a lesser extent, also be an issue.
Opposing this is the need to treat new diseases and conditions. This should be your most important factor. That being said, things like the fact that equipment is breaking down could be more important. Otherwise, looking at the bigger picture, responsibility to patients might be more critical (this could include the need to avoid medical malpractice suits).
c. Implementing Weekly Teacher Training: In this situation, improving test scores will be most important, and one should score a five. This is especially true if test scores are linked to funding or the state is determined to reach this objective. Other factors, such as the support of the principal and staff, are less important and will score a one or two. Of even less importance is how students feel about this.
Opposing these driving forces are things like increased stress levels for teachers and students. This is more than likely the biggest consideration and will score a five. After this, you have time limits which are also very important, and you may score a four. Of lesser importance are abstract concepts, such as whether or not this is a good idea. Usually, these types of things can only be determined once the change is put into motion.
#5: Analyze What You’ve Done
After the previous four steps, your force field analysis is complete. Now it’s time to analyze what you’ve done and to put this analysis into action. There are several ways to do this.
First, you can decide if you’re going to make a certain decision or proposed change. You can also use this analysis to draw up an action plan or alter the organizational behavior of a company. Second, you can use it to decide what you’re going to do about both the supporting and resisting forces. How can you either strengthen or weaken these forces?
When doing this, take safety considerations into account. For example, could a certain situation have a negative impact, such as death or accidents? When encountering these types of situations, it’s best to use another decision-making tool other than force field analysis.
Finally, bear in mind that force field analysis can often be completely subjective. While you may think that a certain factor is important, it may play no role whatsoever. Also, make sure that you’ve put in enough work. This decision-making tool may seem simple, but this is often because people do not consider each and every factor involved.
a. Weight Loss: This analysis should give you a good idea as to why you can’t lose weight. By analyzing each factor and scoring it, you’ll be able to understand your situation better. For example, maybe you’re fine with exercising but refuse to give up the food you eat. On the other hand, your motivating factors could include being nagged by your spouse. Another motivating factor could be the burden of your enormous body or the fact that you feel tired all the time and are developing Type 2 diabetes.
By the time this force-field analysis is complete, you should be able to make a decision. Perhaps you’ll decide on a new way of living. This could include cutting down your favorite food or giving it up completely. Maybe you’ll decide to only eat this type of food once a week. What you’ll also have to do is practice social self-regulation, i.e., avoiding unhealthy food in social situations.
You may also come up with a plan for exercising more or could even decide on something as simple as walking around the block once a day. Other useful techniques could include visiting a counselor or joining a weight loss support group such as weight watchers. Remember, at the end of the day, the aim of the tool is to make decisions that lead to positive outcomes.
b. New York City Hospital Equipment Upgrade: With this force field analysis tool, you should be able to find the best approach for achieving your desired outcome. First of all, this will include how to handle this planned change issue. You may decide to purchase new equipment or put it off. Maybe the time isn’t right, or you simply cannot find the money.
The opposite may also be true and stronger forces could be at play. Your equipment could be on its last legs and at the point of failure. You may have lost patients due to this and therefore have no choice to upgrade. Take note: force field theory doesn’t work well when there are safety concerns. In this scenario, it’s not about making a decision to upgrade equipment – you essentially have no choice. If this is the case, then all possible solutions must be considered.
c. Implementing Weekly Teacher Training: Based on this force field analysis work, what can the state do to set in motion a successful change initiative? First of all, they can rely on the principal to motivate teachers and students. Also, if teachers are reluctant, it may help to communicate to them that this additional training is not a reflection of their teaching skills. They should also communicate the fact that their performance is not being evaluated. The only goal is raising test scores.
Last on the list is the training itself. Here the state can provide the training teachers need in order to implement test objectives into their lesson plans. Teachers may also want to engage in action research or examine the group dynamics inside of their classroom. Doing this may help them discover why test scores are inadequate. Maybe pupils need to be broken up into small groups where they can learn better. Perhaps one-on-one teaching would have a more positive impact on certain students.
Field analysis is a useful tool for making difficult decisions. It helps you think about the balance of power between opposing forces and how to find a dynamic balance.
Once this is done, you can then decide what type of action to take. Maybe your initial plan requires work, or you need to consult further with team members. Either way, the main purpose of Lewin’s theories and analysis is to help you make informed and wise decisions. When this is done, your chances of success increase greatly.
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