Making Kurt Lewin’s Change Management Model Work for Your Company

According to change management expert John Kotter, 70% of change initiatives in businesses and organizations end in failure.

This high rate of failure stems from the fact that managing change is really about managing people’s expectations, trust levels and optimism.

One way to consider the process of change management is by using the model offered by Kurt Lewin, a German-American psychologist who published his change management theories back in the 1950s. While dated, they are still relevant, and can offer insight into how to go about successfully implementing workplace changes.

Lewin’s Model: Unfreeze, Change, Refreeze

Lewin’s model is predicated on the idea that three steps are involved in organizational change. The first, “unfreeze,” involves breaking down barriers to change and getting others to buy in to the idea that change is necessary. The second, “transition,” is where the process of change actually takes place, as people give up their old ways of doing things and switch to new ones. This is often the most challenging stage in the process. The third step, “refreezing,” involves establishing stability and routine once the changes have been made.

Unfreeze: Beginning the Process of Change

This stage is all about convincing others in the company that the status quo is unacceptable and that change will bring about positive results. In order to do so, it is essential to craft a message with the right tone and substance to get others on board with your plan. While you want to avoid alienating others or hurting anyone’s feelings, it is also important to stick to your message. Your confidence about your plan of action will inspire others to accept the changes for which you advocate.

Transition: Carrying Out the Plan

A survey by Standish Group reports that in 2013, only one-third of institutional plans for change were carried out on time and on budget. The high rate of delay and failure within change management is one reason why carrying out the transition can be a long process, even once the plan has been accepted.

Do not let delays and slowdowns become the accepted norm. In order to avoid these issues, challenge passivity and encourage proactive acceptance of change. This means, first of all, communicating with everyone within the company about the changes and allowing all employees and team members to have their say.

It also means involving everyone in the process of change, from the company head to the lowest-ranked employee. Giving others practical means to make change happen affords them a sense of responsibility and purpose.

Finally, it is important to accept that this stage will take time – longer for some than others. Patience is a central aspect of change management. Continue to communicate with and empower those around you, and allow sufficient time for everyone to understand and begin to work towards the change you are seeking to implement.

Gartner Analysts extoll the need for management to be involved: “Change only happens when the head, heart and emotions of those leading the change are genuinely bought in.”

Refreeze: Regaining a Stable and Efficient Workplace Environment

The final stage in Lewin’s model focuses on reinforcing the concepts that the process of change has put in place and returning the workplace environment to a state of normalcy and comfort. Again, this can take longer for some team members than others. At this stage, you’ll want to ensure that organizational changes have been integrated into employees’ everyday routines. Refreezing is about making what once seemed strange and uncomfortable a matter of habit.

It is important too, at this stage of the process, to actively celebrate the success this change has brought your company. Inspire a feeling of confidence and excitement about the new ways of doing things you have brought to the table.

In today’s competitive era of constant development and dynamism, it is important to remember that the refreezing process should not try to instil a sense of permanence or stasis. Down the road, further change is sure to come, and refreezing needs to allow for this. The entire process of change management should be undertaken with a willingness to entertain new ideas, since these are the lifeblood of any positive change. This attitude will help to keep employees happy, creative, and excited about what they do.


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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