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Lewin's Force Field Analysis : Effective Decision Making

This is not a lesson in physics. Kurt Lewin was a social psychologist. He is most renowned for introducing scientific experimentation into the world of behavioral psychology. Born in 1890 he has shaped the understanding of decision-making concepts, specifically using Force Field Analysis which was developed in 1947. It involves a 35,000 feet view of the pros and cons of a decision. The net impacts of the forces that affect change are analyzed and evaluated.

Some of the reasons why change is resisted are that there could be a loss of control because of the change initiative, a feeling of burden, loss of job security, etc… Methods have to be developed in order to counter these forces. There are four main types of people based on their reaction to change: Enthusiasts, Followers, Objectors, and Underground. The enthusiasts are those who are excited by change and they would propagate the merits of change to everyone. The followers are those who take the least resistance route to change. The objectors usually have the reasons to oppose change. They are important because they provide a balanced outlook to change, even if this is not always the case. The underground people are the ones who do not raise their voices primarily because of fear. Lewin’s method encapsulated the points for and against a change, which directly or indirectly takes note of the apprehensions of all these groups of people in an organization.

Four steps constitute this method. In the first step the factors for and against a decision are written on a piece of paper. The factors that are for change are known as driving forces and the factors that are against change are known as restraining forces. Some of the driving forces are executive mandate, increased efficiency, and customer demands and some of the restraining forces are fear, lack of incentives and lack of training. When both these forces balance each other change is said to be in a state of equilibrium. Each of the factors is given a score between 1 to 5, wherein 5 is strong or high and 1 is weak or low. Add all the scores, and see if the result comes as expected. Make action points in order to balance the score towards supporting the decision.

The implementation of this analysis in a typical business scenario happens in the following stages:

1. Identification and understanding of the current state
2. Identification and understanding of the goals
3. Listing forces that affect change while progressing to the goals
4. Evaluation of the scores in the force chart
5. Working on the strategies that reduce the restraining forces and enhance the driving forces

In the above example, there are more points that support a particular decision towards change. While this is so, care must be taken to reduce the effect of the restraining forces nevertheless.

The most common applications of force field analysis are in the change management service lines, decision making and improvement of productivity. Change management is the most important application of this methodology. Healthcare industry has benefited enormously from this tool. Computerization of the nursing systems has been one of the primary applications. While there are many methods to aid in decision making, this can be the first methods because of its simplicity and ability to break down complex situation into simple scenarios.

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