Lewin’s Change Model

Kurt lewin change model - toolshero

Lewin’s Change Model: this article explains the theory of Lewin’s change model, developed by Kurt Lewin in a practical way. After reading you will understand the basics of this powerful change management tool.

What is the Lewin’s Change Model?

“Stagnation means decline” is a famous saying in many dynamic organizations. This is why reorganizations, adjustments and other changes take place within organizations.

Unfortunately, employees are not always happy with these changes and change therefore often encounters resistance. To handle this properly, the German-American psychologist Kurt Lewin developed the “Unfreeze-Change-Refreeze” model, one of the most famous approaches to change management, which is all about empowering people within the organization.

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The Lewin’s change model describes the change in three stages and is about change in general. Nevertheless, it is widely used within companies.

According to experts, Lewin’s change model can be applied in the following three ways:

  1. Changing existing systems, structures, and processes within an organization
  2. Changing behaviors, attitudes and skills of employees within an organization
  3. Implementing changes to the corporate culture, organizational climate and interpersonal way of working together

Stable situation

To overcome resistance, the people involved need to let go of old habits and structures. This is a difficult assignment because change leads to a disruption of a stable situation. People like to keep the old situation as it is, because it is safe and predictable. People are only capable of accepting change when they know what this change will bring them.

Lewin’s change stage model versus behavior modification

The model focuses on behaviour modification of people/ employees. The lewin’s unfreeze change refreeze model distinguishes three stages.

Lewin Change model phases - toolshero

Unfreeze stage

At this stage, people realize that something is going to change and they are dealing with strong emotions such as denial, impatience, uncertainty and doubt. It is essential for a business to fully disclose the state of affairs and to explain why a change process is put into force.

Lewin describes that human behavior is a kind of quasi-stationary state. Trying to change this status quo almost always results in resistance. Lewin argues that this equilibrium state must be stirred to encourage different behavior and facilitate change.
There are several ways to change the status quo in the short term.

A summary of actions and measures that can be taken during this phase are:

  • Establish why change is needed and make sure employees understand the change process
  • Instilling the need for change
  • Ensure sufficient support
  • Engage with stakeholders
  • Communicating the long-term vision

As a result of clear communication employees are more willing to accept to the new change of direction and they can let go of old customs. During this stage, it is advisable to involve employees so that they can take a constructive approach to the change process.

Change stage

It is of crucial importance that the change is implemented within a short time. The longer the change process takes, the more employees are inclined to relapse into old habits and rituals.

Once the status quo is thawed, change must be implemented. Organizational change is wide-ranging and complex, so it is imperative that it is planned well in advance.

Two key drivers of successful implementation are information literacy and leadership skills.

Information provision refers to the sharing of information with the different hierarchical layers of the organization. As before, it is important that everyone within the organization is kept informed to ensure involvement.

Leadership in this is about the influence of leadership figures on the group of employees in order to achieve goals.

Change that lacks the above is often unsustainable and short-lived.

In summary, this phase is about:

  • Implementing change
  • Answering questions and clarifying misunderstandings
  • Communicating the impact of implemented changes
  • Promoting action and commitment
  • Supporting managers in dealing with day-to-day changes

Involving everyone in the change

This stage is sometimes referred to as the “move stage” because it causes a ripple effect within an organization. By acting vigorously and implementing the change within a short time, the employees will become aware of the importance of this change more quickly.

Refreeze stage

This stage, refreeze the change, is about solidifying the change. After the change has been implemented in the change stage, employees are inclined to revert to their old habits.

Therefore, it is advisable to make proper arrangements and carry out interim evaluations, monitor and make adjustments (when necessary). Only then the new situation can be stabilized and the employees will understand that there is no turning back. Eventually, they will act in accordance with the new situation and realize that there are advantages to it.

In summary, companies should do the following:

  • Bind to the new status quo by identifying and removing barriers
  • Develop and promote the new ways of working
  • Provide adequate leadership
  • Establish feedback structures
  • Provide training and support
  • Implement reward systems

Need

Change processes often fail because an organization does not succeed in communicating the need for change to their employees. People/ employees will only be able to make concessions and let go of the old situation when they are aware of the need for change.

The only way in which management will succeed in convincing staff of this need, is openness, transparency and honesty. When the employees are involved in the process, they will understand the need for change and they can work on their awareness of the change.

Application of the change management model

Lewin’s organizational change model is still frequently used in organizational change. But also in team building trajectories it is an excellent method to bring about a mentality change among employees and creating awareness of the advantages of change.

Change does not have to be a threat, it can be seen as a new challenge that will energize and motivate everyone.

Criticism on the model

Lewin’s model recognizes the importance of the interdependence of units and departments within an organization. Yet it assumes that organizations act in a static manner, when in reality the workplace is a dynamic and turbulent place.

As a result, the author of the model receives criticism that the model is too simple and mechanistic. It is therefore not applicable for an entire organization in radical and disruptive change. It is, however, useful for incremental change.

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It’s Your Turn

What do you think? Is the lewin’s organizational change model applicable in today’s modern organizations? Do you recognize the practical explanation or do you have more suggestions? What are your success factors for the good organizational change, based on the theory of the Lewin’s change model?

Share your experience and knowledge in the comments box below.

More information

  1. Smith, M. K. (2001). Kurt Lewin: Groups, experiential learning and action research.
  2. Schein, E. H. (1999). Kurt Lewin’s change theory in the field and in the classroom: Notes toward a model of managed learning. Reflections, 1(1), 59-74.
  3. Lewin, K. (1946). Action research and minority problems, in: G.W. Lewin (Ed) (1948) Resolving Social conflict. Harper and Row.

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Published on: 03/01/2012 | Last update: 23/02/2022

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