Kurt Lewin’s Model of Organizational Change Explained

At this point, talking about the models of organizational change that are popular is actually a highly redundant thing. We’ve discussed these models a billion times. The only reason I’m doing it now, is because new readers may not easily find the old discussions we had previously.

I hate repetition like this, but I admit to knowing why it is necessary.

Limited Selection of Models of Organizational Change:

There are actually three models that are usually listed as the primary go-to types. But, one of them makes no sense in any explanation I have ever read of it, and therefore I couldn’t magically make sense of it here, either.

In light of that, I’ll be talking about the two that do make sense, and even in this case, one of them is deprecated as far as modern usage goes. But, there aren’t a lot of global models for this simply because there doesn’t need to be.

The Historical:

All models of change, be they organizational or individual, owe their origin to the Lewin model, and Kurt Lewin’s theories on social psychology, and change dynamics and evaluation.

The Lewin model, thus named for Dr. Lewin himself, was the first model of change actually mapped out and clinically implemented. By a modern perspective, this model can seem a bit like fixing a complex machine with a big clumsy hammer, but that’s only if you base your view strictly on the condensed model referred to by textbooks.

So, what is this model? It’s absurdly simple. Lewin’s theories base largely on working with and to overcome a human tendency to resist being pulled out of familiarity and comfort zones.

This is the prime obstacle to change as an overall theory. After this unfreezing stage, then training on the changes, and refreezing them (making them the new comfort zone and habit) takes place. If it worked, it will be shown by the fact that people involved don’t have to consciously enforce the changes, as they are, as I said, habit.

It’s a bit simplistic, but you can build your own, more specially tooled models based on it, and you can succeed greatly.

The Modern:

Now, we have the Kotter model, which is based on Lewin’s theories being more refined, and also named for its inventor. I won’t be going over the tiny details of this model here, as a future piece will be all about that.

But, I will give you a basic summation of this model. It divides the unfreezing phase into multiple, strategic and flexible steps, as well as the training and application of change, and the refreezing phase as well. On top of this, it also brings in very specific methodologies for measuring change effectiveness, building sponsorships and other such things.

It adds up to a set of eight steps (the eight-step model being another name for this), and the biggest credo above these is that no step is intended to be skipped, or be done even slightly out of order.

However, I think that people more skilled in managerial work in general can get away with mild deviation from that otherwise immutable law of Kotter change, honestly.

These are the two primary models of organizational change, and only one is directly used in its original form these days. There are a ton of other models, but I didn’t bother talking about them here because nobody uses them.

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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