Management Essays Force Field Analysis

Force Field Analysis

One of the vital tools for organizational transformation is the use of the Force Field Analysis. According to Wilson (2000, p. 207), most situations that have something to do with work can be envisioned as having two sets of forces – those that encourage the situation and those that prevent or discourage it. Driving forces are those forces or factors affecting a situation which are pushing in a particular direction (Jenkins). Driving forces tend to initiate a change and keep it going. Restraining forces may be likened to walls or barriers (Jenkins). They only put a stop and prevent movements towards improvements. These forces are acting to restrain or decrease the driving forces.

In any group or organization, there are both driving and restraining forces at times of change. The Force Field Analysis suggests ways of dealing with these opposing forces. With reference to this model, analyze the essential stages in the change process, the characteristics of crises and conflict, and the managerial approaches for successfully implementing change.

Introduction:

Many years ago, Kurt Lewin told us that the best way to understand an organisation is to try to change it (Carter, et al, 2001 p. 4).

Different organisations have a number of barriers and challenges to overcome. These can come both from their external and internal environments. These barriers constitute a force for change.

Change has always been one of the main features of organisational life. It may not always be welcomed and desirable but it is proving to be the one of the main constant in today’s changing environment. An organisation that does not recognize change is an organisation that has ceased to exist in the real world.

Organisations respond to different challenges in different ways. Most of these challenges are brought about by the emergence of new technologies, new competitors, new markets, and new customer demands (Harvard). These challenges bring about the need to embrace organisational change in structure, culture, and process.

If organisations are contemplating changes, then it will be helpful to determine what forces are acting for or against these changes. As these organisations are moving about and implementing change, they are constantly being bombarded with environmental, social, economic, political, and leadership challenges and pressures. These challenges breed different types of forces. Carefully analyzing the forces that bring about these challenges can help organisations decide, control, and implement balanced change programs in difficult and uncertain times.

A model of change calls for identifying the different ways of dealing with these forces by understanding and following the change process, the identification and resolution of crisis and conflicts, and the different managerial approaches to successfully implementing change.

Force Field Analysis

One of the vital tools for organizational transformation is the use of the Force Field Analysis. According to Wilson (2000, p. 207), most situations that have something to do with work can be envisioned as having two sets of forces – those that encourage the situation and those that prevent or discourage it. Driving forces are those forces or factors affecting a situation which are pushing in a particular direction (Jenkins). Driving forces tend to initiate a change and keep it going. Restraining forces may be likened to walls or barriers (Jenkins). They only put a stop and prevent movements towards improvements. These forces are acting to restrain or decrease the driving forces.

When driving forces are countered by restraining forces, a certain level of equilibrium develops. This equilibrium can be raised or lowered by changes in the relationship between the driving force and the restraining force.

Sometimes, in order to maintain this equilibrium, driving forces may be increased or decreased. In the course of doing so however, additional restraining forces may emerge. Different forces can be modified by reducing or removing forces, stretching or adding forces, and changing the direction of forces.

Force field analysis is a management technique developed by Kurt Lewin, a pioneer in the field of social sciences for diagnosing situations (Accel-team). It is often useful when looking at the variables involved in planning and implementing a change program and in trying to overcome resistance to change and inertia. It is also widely used to inform decision-making and planning and implementing change management programs in different organizations. As a vital tool in organisational change, it can identify the relative priority of factors on each side of organizational issues. It can also be used to analyse the forces affecting these issues and situations.

Force Field Analysis Process

This analysis is carried out with a group using a flip chart or overhead transparency. Usually, the first step is to assess the current situation and agree on the goal of the policy or institutional change. This goal should be written between two columns. All the forces for change (usually, driving forces) and encouraging improvements should be listed on one column and all forces against change (restraining forces) in the other. The next step is to try to establish the weight of each force, that is, how much influence is being exerted by that force using a scale of 1 to 5 where 1 denotes a weak influences and 5 denotes a strong influence. Equilibrium is usually achieved when the sum of the weights of the driving forces equals the sum of the weights of the restraining forces.

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Force Field Analysis as a Model of Change

Wilson (2000, p. 224) says that for most organisations that are about to embark on change process, one of the first steps is for senior managers to spend time reviewing strategies and exploring alternatives. This process may involve away days, seminars, and conferences. Another strategy is to define specific problems and ask specific questions related to the different problems. This may be a difficult task considering the level of energy needed to break the opposition to change and inertia. For example, in analyzing how to improve and increase the number of enrollees in most higher education institutions, questions like, why don’t we change the way we screen and accept students or what are the forces which are keeping our strategies in their present trend? The education sector is in a very competitive environment nowadays. Colleges and universities around the world are keen on attracting an even greater number of students even from distant places through different online programs.

However, as school administrators are slowly exploring deeper into the root causes of falling number of college students, it becomes clearer that there may be some strong forces preventing substantial changes in strategies from occurring as well as strong forces pressing toward changing the nature of the entire educational system.

There might be several forces which point toward more acceptable levels of screening techniques and even ways of attracting prospective college students:

  • Students desire more flexible schedules and more convenient ways of dealing with their instructors.
  • College entrance examinations may not always be the most reliable way of screening and evaluating prospective college students.
  • Technology makes it possible for education related services to simulate traditional classroom environments and interactions.

In addition to these forces, schools desire to be the center of excellence on specific fields of learning. Today, schools are continually trying to improve on all the aspects of their student services.

There might be other forces which seem to be opposed to these changes. Some of these forces are:

1. Many faculty members in most colleges and universities lack formal training in technology-based educational system.

2. Easing on the present method of screening students and experimenting with the unknown makes everyone involved feel insecure.

3. Testing with new scheduling methods may be risky and can contribute to the deterioration of classroom instructions and the quality of other services.

During the clarification stage of the change process, one of the goals of this stage is to be able to clarify misconceptions and provide the forum and venue where doubts can be raised and addressed properly. Identifying the driving and restraining forces are concentrated on reaching a common understanding of what the proposed changes would mean and how it relates to the entire organisation. One of the driving forces is the need to see and visualize the short and long term benefits of any proposed changes. The restraining force may be the lack of specific and detailed information and supporting documentation with regards to the proposed changes.

During the implementation phase of the change process, it is necessary to attain a certain level of success. After having clarified some goals, senior management can spend more time developing clear measures of success. Some of the driving and restraining forces can be centered on how and when to measure the success of the implemented changes.

In each stage of the change process, it is crucial to attain a certain level of equilibrium so that change can be sustained and be kept going.

Force Field Analysis Example

The force field analysis has been used in diverse fields ranging from organisational change to self-development.

In another example of using the force field analysis for change, let us examine the goal of one manufacturing company. This manufacturing company would like to use new strategies and new technologies in their marketing operations. The driving and restraining force are sorted on common themes and are prioritized according to their magnitude towards change by assigning a score or rating to each force, ranging from 1 to 5 where 1 denotes a weak force and 5 as the strong force.

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Driving forces Score/Rating

Customers want new information on products 4

Improve speed of information delivery to customers 3

Raise level of product awareness 4

Marketing costs are increasing 3

___________

Total 14

Restraining forces Score/Rating

Loss of staff overtime 2

Staff frightened by new technologies 3

Environmental impact of new technologies 3

High cost of new technologies 3

Disruption to daily marketing operations 2

___________

Total 13

Based on the previous example, it is clear that the driving forces are pushing for new ways of marketing products and services. One of the new technologies which can be used to market these products and services can be the use of web-based technologies and the Internet. The use of the web provides customers a lot of opportunities to gain access to real-time information at a much faster rate compared to traditional marketing techniques like the printing and distribution of card catalogs containing new product information and specifications. This strategy also raises the level of awareness of these products and services as it can cover a wider customer base. Although initially, investing on new technologies can be cost-prohibitive, in the long run, as marketing costs related to printing and manpower eventually rises, the use of web and Internet technologies may prove to be much more cheaper in the long run.

One of the restraining forces is the loss of staff overtime. It is one restraining force because these overtimes provide additional pay to employees and it would make it more difficult for these employees to come to terms with these losses due to changes in marketing strategies. The use of the web virtually lessens the need to do overtime marketing jobs especially for those who are working on the field. Sometimes, the staff may be averse to the introduction of new technologies as there is always the degree of uncertainty and job loss to be brought about by them.

Crisis and Conflicts

Problem solving is often concerned with shifting the balance (Wilson, p.207). As organisations adapt changes, certain relationships are created, certain policies are changed, and some techniques are developed. In handling conflicts and crisis brought about by change, the force field analysis can help identify the different forces that bring about negative and positive feedbacks and reactions from people. Individuals are being asked to give up practices, relationships, attitudes, and sometimes emotions (Wilson, p. 218). In trying to resolve conflicts and crisis situations associated with planned changes, the force field analysis can reduce or remove the force that is causing the conflict situation. It can also stretch or add new forces to counter another force. In certain instances where conflicts cannot be resolved through the addition or removal of certain forces, changing the direction of these forces can be an alternative. If organisations are to put a new philosophy in conflict resolution, then they are adding a new driving force.

Managerial Approaches for Successfully Implementing Change

It is a must for organisations undergoing change to create effective processes and approaches for the planning and management of change (Pieters, p.119). Managing change through the use of the force field analysis may inevitably bring forth new ways of identifying factors that can contribute to the success or failure of the change process. Management of change processes must consider not only short term goals but also long term ones. The force field analysis can be seen as the framework in diagnosing interrelationships between the intervening variables in the organisational setup.

Management approaches in organisational change should not upset the equilibrium. Sometime, top level management’s desire to achieve and see immediate results through increased profits and productivity by increasing the driving forces can breed different sets of restraining forces. A manager that is autocratic and imposes high working standards and discipline on the entire organisation can expect to achieve an immediate increase in output in the short term. However, new restraining forces may develop in the form of increased antagonism and hostility towards the manager and the organisation in general. It may generate discontentment, disillusionment, and increased resistance to change. By the time a new manager takes over, there would already be an increased activity related to the different restraining forces which can cause lower productivity and output. This new equilibrium may need a new set of managerial approaches in order to stabilize the situation. The manager may see the need to increase output and productivity right away but may try another approach. He may not immediately increase the driving forces but might even try to lessen the restraining forces by engaging in dialogs and other problem solving techniques. With the possible elimination of hostility and negative attitudes towards management, in the long term, the equilibrium (increased productivity) needed to attain a certain level of increased productivity may begin to be achieved through increase in skills and commitment to organisational objectives.

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It is also important to develop the habits of participative work since it is likely possible that the identification of the different forces can come from the different levels of the organisation (Harvard). Specifically, some of these approaches are the following:

  • Push the decision making down to the lowest possible. The identification of the root causes of problems and the possible solutions to these problems can be found on those that are in the frontline.
  • Begin sharing information freely. By sharing information freely, members of the organisation are encouraged to share their own problems and experiences.
  • Make communication a two way street. It is important to talk and listen at the same time.
  • Eliminate unnecessary symbols of hierarchy and unequal status. These symbols can come in the form of executive lunch rooms and parking spaces.
  • Encourage participatory management. It is important to keep in mind that everyone is also capable of managing different aspects of their life.
  • Get into the trenches with frontline employees and encourage other managers to do the same. This management approach would be construed as a way of bridging the gap between management and the workforce.
  • Give people practice in collaborative work between functions by attacking projects and problems through cross-functional teams. This approach encourages more interaction and communication not only between management and the employees but from among the employees themselves.
  • Help people see the ‘why’ of change, and work with them to discover the what. It is easy to explain and understand the need for change. What is difficult to understand and see is the why. There are interlocking problems and complex issues that need to be simplified for every individual to see.

With respect o cultural change, the following steps and approaches should be considered:

  • Uncover beliefs and values.
  • Acknowledge, respect, and discuss differences between core values and beliefs of different sub cultures within the organisation.
  • Look for incongruencies between conscious and unconscious beliefs and values and resolve by choosing those to which the organisation wishes to commit.

Conclusion:

It is assumed that in any situation, there are driving and restraining forces that influence any change that can occur. Organisations that are planning some form of changes need to be able to adopt a specific change model that would address most of the issues and problems that would be associated with it.

The force field analysis can be a good model for change. This analysis provides a lot of opportunities for organisations contemplating on change to view different situations and identify different sets of forces that can directly influence the change process, conflict and crisis resolution, and managerial approaches to these changes. It also allows the organisation to weigh these forces and adopt priority measures based on the strengths of these forces. In general, it means that the organisation has gotten into grips with the problems that they are currently experiencing and have thought of all the consequences of all the possible solutions. Driving forces tend to initiate change while restraining forces tend to decrease or even stop the driving forces from initiating change. The current setup of today’s organisations and the way they adapt to changing environments influenced by a lot of factors and forces makes the force field analysis one of the best models in managing and implementing organisational change. The harsh reality of life nowadays encourages the removal of restraining forces rather than develop overpowering and driving forces. These strategies provide one of the strongest analytical tools yet for organisational change.

Bibliography

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Harvard Business Essentials (2003), Managing Change Transition, Harvard Business

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