Kurt Lewin's Change Management Model – A Three Step Change Model

Wed, 07/09/2014 - 03:20 -- Gulzar Ahmed

Change always plays a vital role in the life of organizations. With the rapid change in technology, customer taste and demand is also rapidly changing. Now if an organization recognizes the change and handle the change, it can survive best. Those organization which not recognize the change and avail it, cannot survive in long term. So all successful companies need to foresee and mange the change situations.

The concept of "change management" is well familiar by many organizations today. But, how different organizations manage change, what strategies they adopts and how successful they are in managing the risk, these all varies enormously depending on the nature of the particular organization, its industry, nature of the change and the people involved.  This also plays a vital role that how the employee of an organization understand the change process. One of the most famous models for understanding organizational change was developed by Kurt Lewin back in the 1950s.  The model still holds true today and many successful organizations follow this model.

Lewin, a social scientist as well as physicist, deeply explained organizational change with the help of a simple example of changing the shape of a block of ice. Kurt Lewin's change model consist three stages Unfreeze, Change and Refreeze.

What is Change Theory of Kurt Lewin's

Imagine that you have a large cube of ice. Now what you want is a cone of ice, what will you? First you need to melt the large ice cube only then you can change it (unfreeze). Then you need to mold the iced water into your desired cone shape (change) and finally, you need to solidify the new desired shape (refreeze).

Now you come to know that change is a process with distinct stages, an organization can prepare itself for coming changes and make a plan to manage the transition (looking before you leap). This often happen that companies go into change blindly, this cause much unnecessary turmoil and chaos, so companies should foresee change and then they can handle with it. To begin any successful change process, organization should first need to understand why the change must take place and what will be benefits from change. According to Lewin’s point of view, "organization must motivate its employees for change before change actually occurs. Here I would explain lewin’s three-step change model of Unfreeze, Change and Refreeze.

Unfreeze, Change and Refreeze.

Stage 1. Unfreeze

Lewin unfreezing stage of change process and it involves preparing the particular organization to accept that change is necessary and it should adopt the change for successful survival. In this stage organization need to break down the existing status quo before it can build up a new way of operating. The main thing of unfreeze stage is that organization should develop a compelling message showing why the existing way of doing things cannot continue, and then communicate it throughout the organization.

An organization can easily develop a compelling message by pointing out

  • Declining sales figures
  • Poor financial results
  • Surveys that shows lack of customer satisfaction etc

These things will make the message more forceful and show that things have to change in a way that everyone can understand. To successfully prepare the whole organization for change, management need to start at its core –management need to challenge the beliefs, attitudes, values, and behaviors that currently define it. Senior management may use a simple example of a building. Management may say that we must examine and be prepared to change the existing foundations as this might not support to add more storeys.  If we will not change the foundation the whole building may risk to collapse.

When an organization re-examine its core, it effectively create a (controlled) crisis, which build a strong motivation and inspiration to seek out a new equilibrium. Without this required motivation, management won't get the buy-in and participation necessary to effect any meaningful change.

Stage 2. Change

This stage also called Transition stage. After the uncertainty created and communicated in organization in the unfreeze stage, now in change stage senior management or employees begin to resolve uncertainty and look for new ways to do things. Management and staff start to believe and act in new ways that support the new direction. Employees of the organizations always take some time to embrace the new direction and participate proactively in the change.  In this stage organization need to focus on the specific issue of personal transitions in a changing environment. So, appropriate leadership and reassurance is required for successful management of this stage of Lewin's Change management model.

 Staff will accept the change and contribute well if employees will understand how the changes will benefit them. When the employees will come to know that the change is necessary and will benefit whole organization then they will involve in it and will do their best. Staff of organization needs time to understand the changes and they also need to feel highly connected to the organization throughout the transition period. So time and communication are the two vital keys to success for the changes to occur. When an organization is managing change, the management of organization should keep in mind that it requires a great deal of time and effort.

Stage 3. Refreeze

When the changes are taking shape and employees of the organization have embraced the new ways of working, now it’s time to refreeze. The obvious signs of the refreeze stage are a stable organization chart and consistent job descriptions. Here it needs to help employees and management of the organization to internalize or institutionalize the changes. This means management should make it sure that the changes are used all the time as well as they are incorporated by employees into everyday business. With a new sense of stability and belonging, employees of the organization will feel confident and comfortable with the new ways of working. Refreezing stage of Change management model is very important. Because without it the employees of the organization get caught in a transition trap where they aren't sure about how things should be done, due to this nothing will ever gets done to full capacity.

If there will be no frozen state, it will be very difficult for organizational management to tackle the next change initiative effectively. How will organization convince the employees that something needs changing if it hasn’t allowed the most recent changes to sink in? Change will be recognized as change for change's sake, so the encouragement, motivation and inspiration are always required to implement new changes.

lewin’s framework for change management

Practical Steps for Using the Lewin's Change Management Model

Steps for Unfreeze Stage

Must determine that what needs to change

  1. Organization should understand why change has to take place & then communicate this.
  2. Conduct a survey of the organization to understand the existing state.

Make it sure there is strong support from top level management

  1. Consider the change issue as one of organization-wide importance.
  2. Must use Stakeholder Analysis   & Management   to identify and win the support of key people within the organization.

Develop the need for change

  1. Organization should develop a compelling message as to why change has to occur.
  2. Use organization vision, mission and strategy as supporting evidence.
  3. Emphasize the "why".
  4. Communicate with employee the vision statement of the organization in terms of the change required.

Manage and understand the concerns and doubts about change

  1. Organization should remain open to employee concerns and address in terms of the need to change.

Steps for Change Stage

Communicate throughout the organization

  1. Organization need to do so throughout the planning and implementation of the changes.
  2. Describe the benefits of changes.
  3. Explain and communicate exactly that how the changes will affect everyone.
  4. Prepare every employee of the organization for what is coming.
  5. Disperse rumors
  6. Organizational management must deal with problems immediately.
  7. Answer questions as well as concerns of employee openly and honestly.
  8. If possible then organization should relate the need for change back to operational necessities.

Empower action

  1. Provide and create lots of opportunity for employee involvement.
  2. Have line managers or staff managers provide day-to-day direction.
  3. Involve internal as well as external people in the process.
  4. Negotiate change with external stakeholders.

Steps for Refreeze Stage

Anchor the changes into the culture

  1. Identity things that supports the change.
  2. Identify those barriers by which organization can sustain change.

Develop ways to sustain the change

  1. Ensure top level management or leadership support.
  2. Create a reward system this will motivate employee.
  3. Establish Feedback & Control systems.

Provide support and training to staff

  1. Organization should conduct training work shop
  2. Keep everyone informed about training.

Finally celebrate success

Stages of Lewin's 3 step change process required step for each stage. Pulling it all together I would say that, Kurt Lewin's change model is a trouble-free and easy-to-understand framework for managing change. If an organization will recognize


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