Main Change Management Models that Work

Like any business science, change management offers a number of various models that are standardly used. Some models are more complex than others, and all have their advantages and disadvantages.

There is one problem with doing research on change management models; the published material on them is overly technical and often emphasizes logistics and figures, rather than down to earth practical understanding. This is actually a common problem when it comes to breaking down models in business sciences, and it causes a lot of confusion.

So, let’s break down these models and approach them from a practical angle; I would like to examine three popular change management models used today. Hopefully, we can all walk away knowing not only what our biggest choices are, but how each one can best suit our needs.

#1 – Lewin’s Change Management Model

Proposed by psychologist Kurt Lewin in the 1950s, Lewin’s Change Management Model factors in very common psychological concepts: fear of change and the attraction to working within perceived safe zones.

This model proposes first that you implement an “unfreeze” phase, where you warm up your opponents to change by selling them on the advantages of the changes proposed. You show them that there is nothing to fear from leaving their comfort zones.

Upon initiating the change, a “transition” phase begins, where the changes are actually undergone.

Finally, a “refreeze” phase is initiated where employees are encouraged to embrace the new established guidelines and parameters as their new zone of comfort.

Lewin’s model is the one most widely used, but it goes against a lot of modern strategies.  Many experts believe that warming opponents to change is regarded as a waste of energy and time. Most would say embracing proponents actually outweighs convincing opponents that change is beneficial.

#2 – McKinsey 7-S Model

McKinsey 7-S Model is a bit harder to understand. I, as well as most of my colleagues, am not a big fan of this model; but, some corporate cultures and business philosophies do call for this organic, holistic approach, so let’s touch upon it.

The model follows the tried-and-true cyclical approach to repeatedly implementing change little by little over a proposed period of time, while viewing seven integral, interconnected aspects

  • shared values
  • strategy
  • structure
  • systems
  • style
  • staff
  • skills.

The aim is to implement them all in unison – yet gradually – towards a common goal of new standards and guidelines.

The problem is that it’s more of a philosophy, than a practical model; it combines the rational and emotional in unwise ways, and it’s downright confusing.

Still not sure what this model does, after reading this? You are not alone! Many people are confused by this model, and yet, somehow … it still manages to work!

#3 – Kotter’s 8 Step Change Model

I like Kotter’s 8 Step Change Model, but it’s a journey until you reach the end. Created by Professor John Kotter of Harvard University, this model focuses on change as a campaign. He sells people on the urgency of change – overriding their discomfort with it, or any sense of personal insufficiency change may normally bring about.

It uses an eight step process. First there is a rapid increase in urgency to overcome opponents and indifference. Then, there’s the creation of a team, (most members are part of the group being changed), that will be put in charge of helping affect changes.

You and this team then create a vision and roadmap for change. This is followed by the creation of communication channels necessary for change (explanation of why they are needed in non-technical, down to earth terms).

Then, you focus on empowering employees to affect change themselves, through incentives and motivation (gamification is a good plugin for this step). Along with this, you create short term goals that add up to the ultimate change (instead of doing it in one fell swoop that shocks the system).

After these 6 steps, come the last 2 steps. Step seven requires maintaining persistent, steady rates of change, while step eight enforces the permanence of the changes (emphasizing how the old ways are nonexistent and gone). This model takes a long time to implement, but it’s very efficient. Unlike the baffling McKinsey model, Kotter’s model allows for very easy transitions.

These are all the main change management models that work. Lewin Mckinsey and Kotter all have different approaches, choosing the right one just depends on your corporate culture, staff attitude and time allotted. Now that you have a little  background knowledge, I am sure you will choose the one that is best for you.

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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