Force Field Analysis starts from the premise that any situation, interpersonal as well as physical, is held in a stable position by a series of equal and opposite forces. Change comes about when the forces become out of balance. Thus to create a desired change, analysis of the forces for change and those against change, enables consideration ‘of the options available to strengthen the forces driving the change and weaken the forces against the change.
This tool is useful when you know where you want to go but are stuck or making unacceptably slow progress. The analysis enables you to work out the forces driving and opposing the desired change and to take actions that are likely to produce movement. It can be used by individuals but is particularly effective when used in a group of 2 to 6 people, who want to open up their thinking. The model is like the surgeon’s knife, by itself it is completely neutral, how you wield it is up to you. It can be used to manipulate your opponents, equally, it can elevate a group’s mutual understanding of the mess they are in and lead to solutions that benefit everyone.
The technique first requires a description of the situation at the start of your change programme and a shared vision of a desired future state. If these do not exist, scribble them down on a flip chart so that they are at the forefront of everyone’s mind and can trigger thoughts.
Write them on a flip chart using arrows to indicate their direction and relative strengths. Concentrate on the forces perceived or real, as they apply to the group experiencing these situations not to those doing the analysis. Rationalists will find it useful to work through the following force types in sequence.
Less logical thinkers might favour brainstorming, then eliminating the irrelevant and finally using the above as a check list.
Look at the restraining forces and see what can be done to reduce them or redirect them elsewhere.
The temptation is always to push harder, brick walls seem to induce head banging. However, if the restraining forces are reduced, the change will move quietly forward, just as surely but with less danger of generating new opposing forces than if more pressure is applied.
There is no justification for extrapolating Newtonian physics into the realms of human behaviour but experience shows that actions generate opposing reactions here, just as in the world of mechanics. For example, increasing the pressure on people to retire early may generate strong union oppositions, which did not exist before, in order to protect jobs. Action produces reaction.
It may even be that, inadvertently, some of the restraining forces owe their existence to pressures you have already generated and that, somewhere paradoxically, a reduction of a pushing force will be helpful.
Is there action that needs to be taken to maintain the pushing forces? Are there some pushing forces that can be introduced or increased without significantly increasing resistance?
Have you all the data you need? Do you need to check out some of your assumptions?
Next assess whether there is a realistic chance of getting anywhere. It may be that, now that the problem is clearer, it is clearly impossible. Is it sensible to settle for a les desirable but achievable future? Would the available energy be better used on other change programmes? If the decision is made to continue and a number of desirable actions have been identified, all that remains is to decide who is going to do what, by when etc.
- Reduce the restraining forces, beware reaction from increasing the pushing forces.
- Write an action plan
The following illustration of the technique in action started life as a real exercise which has been altered sufficiently to maintain anonymity.
EXAMPLE: Closure of a small cottage hospital and transfer of patients and staff to the new District General Hospital
- Invite the editor of the local paper to visit both facilities
- Run a “training workshop” for all the first line managers, spell out the need for them to talk over the problems of moving with each member of their staff. Provide information pack for these managers. Include skills training on positive listening and later collect feedback from them in order to plan general response.
- Provide access to a more expert neutral counsellor, once a week, so that individuals can work through their individual problems arising from the move.
- Clinical nurse manager to work with the two reluctant sisters to identify their concerns and plan to resolve them.
- Establish a small working party (DNS, DPO, Clinical Nurse Manager, and Sister, Staff Nurse) to examine options for nursing shift systems and report back, in first instance to UMG.
- Use managers to identify transport problems of any individual, spell out policy on temporary payments.