Kurt Lewin Change Management Model Overview

Earlier this week, I took a brief and very general look at some of the most well-known change management models. Yet I think it’s time to take a closer look at the Kurt Lewin change management model. This seems to be one of the more popular (and oldest) theories for affecting change successfully in an organization.

Kurt Lewin was a German-American psychologist and sociologist who specialized in organizational and applied psychology. He is often looked upon as one of the modern pioneers of these subsets of psychology, and the Kurt Lewin change management model is regarded by many as the easiest to implement, especially for novices in the field of change management.

It cuts out a lot of the complexity and fluff that other models involve, but those complexities and fluff, with many models, do serve purposes despite their not being immediately obvious. As a simple and to the point model this one has its issues, but we’ll get to that.

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Basic Theory:

The basic theory behind Lewin’s model is a three step process of unfreeze, transition, and freeze. We’ll get into what these steps actually mean in a moment, but for now let’s just say that this layout is mainly to attack head on the biggest hurdle in change, that of the opposition many have to change in routine and being drawn out of comfort zones.

The Phases:

#1 – Unfreeze

The unfreeze phase of this model is basically, as said above, directly addressing detractors and opponents to change. The model itself doesn’t actually call for a specific approach to this, but it’s commonly done by selling the detractors on change by making a solid case for the change, why it’s necessary, and the benefits of adopting these changes that those opposed stand to enjoy from changing their tune.

#2 – Transition

The transition phase basically is the state of educating people on the changes, putting them into practice, testing them, and doing change assessment to make sure policies line up, and related policies and processes don’t clash once the changes are implemented.

#3 – Freeze

This is the final phase, in which the changes are made official, and everyone is more or less socially programmed to embrace the changes as the new status quo, as they had the scenario predating the change. This is handled by positive reinforcement and solid communication usually.

Benefits:

The benefits to the Lewin model are fairly obvious in that it’s the simplest model out there. This makes it easy to plan around, especially in organizations not accustomed to the science of change management. At the same time, it does try to minimize the difficulty with opposition by addressing it head on.

Downsides:

Critics of the Lewin model cite that the focus on attacking opposition head on as the first step is going to spin wheels a lot, and eat up a lot of energy and time, compared to the 8-step model argued for as its replacement.

Many also frown on how truncated the model is, not really fleshing out the transition or freezing processes, and being somewhat vague on the best strategies for unfreezing as well. This has led many to look at this model as more of a template to build more fleshed out contemporary models upon, rather than a full model itself.

That’s the Kurt Lewin change management model in a nutshell. It’s the easiest one to implement if you’re a novice, but you may want to heed the warnings of critics and use it as a foundation, not as a house.

Christopher Smith
Chris is the Lead Author & Editor of Change Blog. Chris established the Change blog to create a source for news and discussion about some of the issues, challenges, news, and ideas relating to Change Management.
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