When we have a tough decision to make, many of us write a list of the pros and cons. Then, if we have more pluses than minuses, we should surely just go ahead with it?

Well, not necessarily. If you’ve ever made one of these lists, you’ll already know the problem.

Most of the time, the pros and cons aren’t equally important. For instance, you might have just three cons on your list, but one of them might be particularly significant. More so, even, than all of the pros you’ve listed. So, it’s hard to make a balanced decision with a simple list.

One way around this is to use Force Field Analysis. This technique helps you weigh up the forces for and against change, and represents them in a visually clear way. Once you’ve done this, you’ll have a more accurate assessment of your decision.

Conducting a Force Field Analysis is easy. Take a piece of paper, and think about the decision you’re making. On the left-hand side, list the forces for change. That is, the pros of the decision. On the right-hand, list the forces against change, or the cons of the decision.

Next, go through and assign a score of between one and five for each of the pros and cons. A score of one means that this element isn’t that important. A five means it is very important.

When you score the pros and cons on the diagram, you can represent the importance of each force by drawing arrows round them. Use bigger arrows for the forces that have a greater influence on the change, and smaller ones for those that have less. Once you’ve done this, add each column up.

You now know whether it’s worth going ahead with the decision.

Analysing the Pressures For and Against Change

Some people struggle when they have tough decisions to make. They hash through the pros and cons and agonise over making the right call.

When you’re making difficult or challenging decisions, it pays to use an effective, structured decision-making technique that will improve the quality of your decisions and increase your chances of success. Force Field Analysis is one such technique and, in this article and in the video, below, we’ll explore what it is and how you can use it.

Force Field Analysis wascreated by Kurt Lewin in the 1940s. Lewin originally used it in his work as a social psychologist. Today, however, it is also used in business, for making and communicating go/no-go decisions.

The idea behind Force Field Analysis is that situations are maintained by an equilibrium between forces that drive change and others that resist change, as shown in figure 1, below. For change to happen, the driving forces must be strengthened, or the resisting forces weakened.

How to Use Force Field Analysis

To carry out a Force Field Analysis, use a blank sheet of paper or a whiteboard, or a worksheet. 

Step 1: Describe Your Plan or Proposal for Change

Define your goal or vision for change, and write it down in a box in the middle of the page

Step 2: Identify Forces For Change

Think about the kinds of forces that are driving change. These can be internal and external.

Internal drivers could include:

Outdated machinery or product lines.

Declining team morale.

A need to increase profitability.

Your external drivers could include:

A volatile, uncertain  operating environment.

Disruptive technologies.

Changing demographic trends

Tip 1:

It’s important to identify as many of the factors that will influence the change as you can. Where appropriate, involve other people, such as team members or experts in your organisation.

Tip 2:

The following questions may help you to identify forces that will influence the change:

What business benefit will the change deliver?

Who supports the change? Who is against it? Why?

Do you have the resources to make the change work?

What costs and risks are involved?

What business processes will be affected?

For a visual representation of the influence that each force has, draw arrows around them. Use bigger arrows for the forces that will have a greater influence on the change or decision, and smaller arrows for forces that will have a weaker influence.

Step 5: Analyse and Apply

Now that you’ve done your Force Field Analysis, you can use it in two ways:

  1. To decide whether or not to move forward with the decision or change.
  2. To think about which supportive forces you can strengthen and which opposing or resisting forces you can weaken, and how to make the change more successful.

If you had to implement the project in the example above, the analysis might suggest a number of changes that you could make to the initial plan. For instance, you could:

  1. Train staff to minimise their fear of technology. The +1 cost of training increases “Cost” to -4 but the -2 benefits reduce “Staff fearful of new technology” to -1.
  2. Show staff that change is necessary for business survival. This new, +2 force supports the change.
  3. Show staff that new machines would introduce variety and interest to their jobs. This new, +1 force also supports the change.
  4. Raise wages to reflect new productivity. The +1 cost of raising wages takes “Cost” to -5, but the -2 benefits reduce “Loss of overtime” to -1.
  5. Install slightly different machines with filters that eliminate pollution. The -1 benefit of the new
  6. machines eliminates “Impact on environment” as a force against change.

These changes would swing the balance from 11:10 (against the plan), to 13:8 (in favour of the plan).

Tip 1:

Some factors, where you need absolute certainty in order to make a good decision, don’t fit well with this approach. Considerations that affect people’s health and safety, for example, aren’t suited to Force Field Analysis. Be sure to deal with these appropriately, whatever the outcome of your analysis.

Tip 2:

Bear in mind that, while Force Field Analysis helps you to understand the impact of different factors on your decision or change, it can be subjective, so use decision making models such as cost/benefit analysis etc to support and ensure objectivity.

Tip 3:

Don’t underestimate how much work a Force Field Analysis can involve. We’ve used a simple example here, but there will be many factors that you’ll need to consider for complex decisions and changes.

Key Points

Force Field Analysis helps you to think about the pressures for and against a decision or a change. It was developed by Kurt Lewin.

To carry out a Force Field Analysis, describe your plan or proposal in the middle of a piece of paper or whiteboard. Then list all of the forces for change in a column on the left-side, and all of the forces against change in a column on the right-side.

Score each factor and add up the scores for each column. You can then decide whether or not to move forward with the change.

Alternatively, you can use your analysis to think about how you can strengthen the forces that support the change and weaken the forces opposing it, so that the change is more successful.