Change management can be tedious and challenging, but it is a well-trodden path. Many analysts have created useful models to manage change in different respects; this article touches upon Kurt Lewin’s famous change model and presents insights about actionable changes.
Kurt Lewin was a German-American psychologist who served as a professor in US universities before becoming a director at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). In the 1940s, Lewin proposed his Change Management Model that presented how organizations adapt and deal with change.
Lewin’s model proposed three main stages to move an organization from its current state to a desired future state: Unfreeze – Change – Refreeze:
- Unfreeze– Assess why change is needed
- Change – Transition towards desired behavior
- Refreeze – Set the new behavior as new normal
His theory of change used blocks of ice as a metaphor and helped diagnose the organizational stage in the present condition.
Let’s say you have ‘cube’ of ice but you’d like a ‘cone’ of ice. To transform the cube shape, you must:
- “unfreeze” or melt the ice
- “change” the mold to a cone shape, and
- “refreeze” the water into the new, desired shape
It’s a simple three-stage process that allows you to easily diagnose which stage you are in.
The Four Golden Rules on implementation of change and their application
- Change should be implemented only if there is a good reason
- Change should gradual and non-inhibitive of current processes.
- All changes should be done after thorough planning without any rush
- All individuals affected by the change need to be part of the planning process.
Now, we’ll look at each of the three stages in more depth and see how these ‘golden rules’ apply.
Stage 1: Unfreeze
The ‘Unfreeze’ stage is about assessing the need for change and even creating the motivation to implement it. The stage can be realized by creating the proper conditions, messaging, and an ideal environment to influence organization’s elements and resources to change. In this stage, Lewin asks us to examine the “way things are done around here” (assumptions) and challenge the status quo.
Force-field analysis – Lewin (1951)
Lewin suggested a methodology for analyzing change he called ‘force field analysis,’ to analyze driving forces that will affect the transition period to the desired future state along with the varied restraining forces who see change as ‘unnecessary’ or constituting a ‘threat.’ Identifying the critical restraining and driving factors is essential in this regard, after which certain steps need to be implemented to boost critical driving forces and reduce restraining forces.
Stage 2: Change
The ‘Change’ stage maintains a focus on the new approach to handle a problem leading to new tactics. First and foremost, organizational goals are established, leading to small changes that reinforce bigger changes to garner support for the transition. Later, management structures are formed and developed with proper two-way communication maintained between impacted parties. Active stakeholder participation is a must for this stage.
Stage 3: Refreeze
The ‘Refreeze’ stage calls for “institutionalizing” the processes and operations with new values and behaviors becoming the norm or new status quo. The staff should feel confident and comfortable in the new setting.
If any of the steps are skipped, the change will meet resistance from the stakeholders because old values will propel the counter to the change, leading to lack of trust and misunderstanding.
There is some criticism levied to Lewin’s change model. Some state that it is too simple for implementing rapid changes required for organizations today; others perceive a danger of being encircled in constant transitions. A linear and absolute disregard for emotional changes involved in people’s journey through change is a recurring criticism leveled against the model.
Applying Lewin’s 3-Step Change Management Model
Step 1 – Unfreeze
Get a clear idea of what is to change: the goal, the desired behavior, why the change is necessary, and the like. Assess the level of change maturity required of affected stakeholders to understand the level of change required to implement the change.
Step 2 – Change
Communicate the what and why of the change affecting all stakeholders in order to bring everyone on board. Collaborate with them to bring about the change so that they do not resist it later. The implementation planning needs to be done to a tee so that every element of the change is organized and clearly conveyed to all parties. Strong leadership managing the change is important in this regard.
Step 3 – Refreeze
The organizational culture will go through an immense change in approach. To make it palatable, one can initiate reward systems for encouraging new behavior, build success experiences, develop structures for institutionalizing the changes, and so on. Leaders need to align their work style with the new model. A lot of grit is involved in refreezing the organization to model itself into new behaviors.
No matter what model you use and how diligent you follow the steps, change takes time. It can be ambiguous and mistakes will happen as part of the learning process. Keep taking positive, consistent action with commitment and diligence to initiate and embrace the change for the better. You will get there in the end.
Adapted and reprinted with permission from Daniel Lock Consulting.
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