Decision making is defined as the cognitive process of selecting a course of action from among multiple alternatives (Wikipedia, 2004). Effective decision making, however, is contingent on an individual or group's ability to select the course of action, which is most likely to result in goal or task accomplishment. In the business world, this is easier said than done since most decisions involve taking into consideration a myriad number of variables such as environmental factors, competitive activities, customer needs, internal goals and organizational constraints. Therefore, most organizations deem it advisable to use decision making support systems or models, which have been developed specifically to assist in the through analysis and evaluation of various alternative courses of action.
One such model is the Force Field Analysis. It is the objective of this paper to describe how the Force Field Analysis model helps weigh the pros and cons of any decision, especially in the area of change management. In addition, the scope of this paper will include an illustration of how force field analysis and critical thinking were used in a recent job decision made by the author of this paper.
Force Field Analysis
During World War II, Kurt Lewin, a University of Iowa professor, invented a simple, elegant tool to help identify what needs to happen to encourage any kind of change -- Force Field Analysis. This model is particularly useful since just deciding on a course of action is never enough. For, often, decisions entail a change in policies and procedures. In fact, at times, even people and their roles need to change. Thus, the Force Field Analysis is a valuable tool in determining what to change (Schwinn, 2003).
Force Field Analysis helps determine the details involved in change or a planned course of action by looking at all the forces for and against a decision. In effect, it is a specialized method of weighing pros and cons (Mind Tools, 1995-2004). The Force Field Analysis involves taking the following steps (Schwinn, 2003):
1. A clear and simple definition of what the decision is trying to achieve. For example, "Launch and sustain a Six Sigma effort that will result in Six Sigma capability of all critical product and service characteristics in ten years."
2. Brainstorm the driving forces, or the existing forces that tend to support the decision.
3. Brainstorm the restraining forces, or the existing forces that tend to inhibit the decision.
4. Prioritize the driving forces with respect to their relative strengths.
5. Prioritize the relative strengths of the restraining forces.
6. Develop a list of actions designed to reduce, eliminate, or reverse the effect of the restraining forces. At times, taking advantage of the driving forces can do this.
Thus, it is evident that the Force Field Analysis is a diagnostic tool, which helps determine the areas that will need to undergo change if a decision is to be rendered effective. In fact, by carrying out a Force Field Analysis, it is even possible to strengthen the forces supporting a decision, while simultaneously reducing the impact of restraining forces. This is best done by listing all forces for change in one column, and all forces against change in another column. Once the columns have been drawn up, scores should be assigned to each force, using a scale of 1 (weak) to 5 (strong). The forces and their individual scores should then be shown in a diagram (Mind Tools, 1995-2004). A representative example is shown in Appendix 1.
Once a thorough analysis (refer Appendix 1) is done, the respective scores for the driving and opposing forces will clearly indicate if a planned decision is viable. However, it is critical to note that the Force Field Analysis is not meant to be used for merely evaluating decisions. Instead, the focus on positive and negative forces is intended to help improve the chances of success of any given decision by the application of critical thinking. This is achieved by looking at ways and means of reducing the strength of the opposing forces and increasing the attractiveness of the driving forces. For instance, in the example shown in Appendix 1, a prima facie evaluation would seem to indicate a no go situation. Whereas, a thorough analysis may suggest a number of possible changes to the initial plan. These changes could include actions such as staff training to eliminate fear of technology; communicating to the staff that the proposed change is imperative for survival; and proposing a wage increase if the new machinery results in increased productivity and cost reduction. By reassigning scores to the modified course of action, it can then be determined if the balance has swung in favor of the decision (Mind Tools, 1995-2004).
Interestingly, although the Force Field Analysis was designed many decades ago, it is considered to be a highly effective tool even today. In fact, it can even be argued that the popularity of the tool has increased in today's age of constant change. As Ashley and Morrison (1997) point out, in a complex and rapidly changing society, being anticipatory and gaining strategic advantage requires decision making tools that allow you to identify new opportunities, avoid being blindsided by external forces, and turn potential threats into opportunities. The Force Field Analysis is a model, which helps an organization achieve exactly that. Indeed, this is evident by the fact that organizations such as P& G. are known to regularly use the tool in decision making, especially in the area of Total Quality efforts (Bounds & Stahl, 1991, p. 719).
But perhaps the utility of the Force Field Analysis is best demonstrated through an illustration of its application in the real world.
Force Field Analysis: An Illustration of its Application in Medical Sales
The health care industry has undergone a dramatic transformation in recent years, with a move away from hospital centered systems towards managed care. This market trend has, in turn, resulted in forcing the medical sales field to make decisions that are increasingly strategic in nature. As Bauer et.al (1998, p. 51) point out, the traditional, or 'generalist,' selling model is no longer adequate, either in terms of its customer value delivery or its cost effectiveness. Instead, the current market environment calls for the deployment of specialized selling models that fit the buying processes and relationship requirements of targeted customer segments and individual accounts.
Recently, the company I work for realized the value of the preceding observation and took a decision to restructure its medical sales team in order to enable more specialized and focused servicing of different customer segments. This decision was facilitated by the Force Field Analysis that my team and I put together for a management review (refer Appendix 2).
The imperative for evaluating the benefits of adopting a specialized selling model arose from customer feedback, which was elicited to investigate the declining sales trend in several of our product lines. However, while customer feedback and other market information clearly indicated the need for my company to change from its traditional, generalized selling approach, the Force Field Analysis indicated that such a move may not be viable (refer Appendix 2). A closer analysis was, thus, undertaken to evaluate whether a move towards specialized selling could be made viable in the light of environmental imperatives. The analysis led to the conclusion that the costs of training and disruption should be viewed as a short-term effect and as an investment in the future. In addition, it was decided that any sales representative who passes on a sales lead from a customer account to the concerned colleague would get a share of the sales commission if a sale materialized. Such a system, it was felt, would address the issue of overlap in individual accounts and the risk of lost opportunities. This perspective led to…