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 (Lewin’s change model) in the 1950s. The Lewin’s change model describes the change in three stages and is about change in general. Nevertheless, it is widely used within companies.
To overcome resistance, people 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 model versus behavior modification
Lewin’s change model focuses on behaviour modification of people/ employees. The model distinguishes three stages.
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. 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.
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. 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.
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.
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 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.
It’s Your Turn
What do you think? Is the Lewin’s 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? Read more on the Lewin’s change model here.
Share your experience and knowledge in the comments box below.
- Smith, M. K. (2001). Kurt Lewin: Groups, experiential learning and action research.
- 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.
- Lewin, K. (1946). Action research and minority problems, in: G.W. Lewin (Ed) (1948) Resolving Social conflict. Harper and Row.
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