Lewin's Change Management Model: Everything You Need To Know

Lewin's Change Management Model: Everything You Need To Know


Change management is defined by Moran and Brightman (2001) as 'the process of continually renewing an organization's direction, structure, and capabilities to serve the ever-changing needs of external and internal customers'.


Lewin's Change Management Model is a comprehensive change model aiming to understand why change occurs and what must be done to deliver change in the most seamless way possible. Lewin developed the change model as a way to illustrate how people react when facing changes in their lives. His model involves a three-stage process: Unfreeze – Change – Refreeze. Lewin, a physicist as well as social scientist, explained organizational change using the analogy of changing the shape of a block of ice.


Each stage represents a crucial aspect of the change process, guiding management through the necessary steps to implement change smoothly. The three stages of change management, as per Lewin's change management, are cited below in terms of their application.


Unfreeze


The first stage in Lewin's model deals with perception management and aims to prepare the affected stakeholders for the upcoming organizational change. It is important to make all stakeholders believe that the change is necessary for the collective good. Change leaders must look at ways to improve the company's preparedness for change and create a sense of urgency.


This stage of the change process is usually the most challenging and stressful, and you may have to make many tough and unpopular decisions. Cutting down on the "way things are done here" puts everyone and everything off balance. You may evoke some adverse reactions and criticism on the way. Effective change communication plays a vital role in getting the desired team members' buy-in and support for the change management initiative. A staggering 70% of all changes attempted in organizations fail. To be in the successful 30%, you need a change management communication plan because the people affected by the change are ultimately the ones responsible for making and sustaining it.


However, change does not always impact everyone equally, and it is important to manage the various levels of change impact:


  • Those negatively impacted by the change will offer active resistance to change. This category of people may fear a loss of power, position, authority, and like. 
  • Some stakeholders would like to hijack and even derail the change effort to benefit and fulfil their agenda. They offer passive resistance to the change and are dangerous to change objectives. This category of people includes those who will appear supportive from the outside and may inadvertently harm the efforts by distorting resources and goals.
  • Finally, those onboard with the change effort genuinely support the change and advocate for others to follow. This category of people will help you accelerate and find momentum.


The most significant factor during the unfreeze stage is to answer 'why' the present state of things needs to be unfrozen and re-moulded. This needs to be answered by explaining the need and merits of the change to all stakeholders.


Change

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The second stage involves making the required changes within the organization. It is the most crucial step that gives a tangible shape to the change. In this stage, the organization develops new ideas and strategies to implement the changes.


In order to gain support and momentum, you must be able to demonstrate thatyour idea has real value to the organization. This is done by showing how the changes will improve productivity or financial performance in some way. To succeed in attracting the right people, they will help promote your idea and attract others to join.


It is also important to celebrate milestones and wins in the process, which will reinforce people's belief that they are making progress while feeling good about themselves overall. This should be done as openly as possible in order to generate more momentum among those who are not yet convinced. Change becomes easier once people start to believe, appreciate, and support the new direction


Refreeze


According to Narinder Sharma, The organization is ready to refreeze when people have embraced the new ways of working, and changes are taking shape. A stable organization chart and consistent job descriptions and likes are key outward signs of the refreeze. In the refreeze stage, help people and the organization internalize or institutionalize the changes. Ensure that you use changes all the time and incorporate them into everyday business. Employees will feel more confident and comfortable with the new ways of working and a new sense of stability.


As part of the anchoring and refreezing process, make sure to celebrate the success of the change. Sincerely thank the people involved for their help and support in the journey and for enduring a painful time during the transition. Help them find closure and take pride in being part of a successful change.


Lewin's change management model


Related: Top Change Management Courses


Practical Steps for Using the Framework:


Below are steps that need to be taken when implementing Lewin's framework.


Unfreeze

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Determine what needs to change

  • Survey the organization to understand the current state
  • Understand why change has to take place.


Ensure there is strong support from upper management

  • Use Stakeholder Analysis and Stakeholder Management to identify and win the support of key people within the organization
  • Frame the issue as one of organization-wide importance.


Create the need for change

  • Create a compelling message as to why change has to occur
  • Use your vision and strategy as supporting evidence
  • Communicate the vision in terms of the change required
  • Emphasize the "why".


Manage and understand the doubts and concerns

  • Remain open to employee concerns and address them in terms of the need to change.


Change


Communicate often

  • Do so throughout the planning and implementation of the changes
  • Describe the benefits
  • Explain exactly how the changes will affect everyone
  • Prepare everyone for what is coming.


Dispel rumours

  • Answer questions openly and honestly
  • Deal with problems immediately
  • Relate the need for change back to operational necessities.


Empower action

  • Provide plenty of options for employee involvement
  • Have line managers provide day–to–day direction.


Involve people in the process

  • Generate short-term successes to reinforce the change
  • Negotiate with external stakeholders as necessary (such as employee organizations).


Refreeze


Anchor the changes into the culture

  • Identity what supports the change
  • Identify barriers to sustaining change.


Develop ways to sustain the change

  • Ensure leadership support
  • Create a reward system
  • Establish feedback systems
  • Adapt the organizational structure as necessary.


Provide support and training

  • Keep everyone informed and supported


Celebrate success!


Related: Change management process: How to make it work


Examples of Lewin's 3-Stage Model in Action


Below are some examples of organizations that incorporated Lewin's theory:


Nissan


The Japanese automaker Nissan Motor Company was on the verge of bankruptcy due to its huge debt and constantly declining market share. However, Nissan entered into a strategic alliance with Renault under the change agent Carlos Ghosn, where Nissan aimed to get rid of its financial debt. Renault wanted to expand its market share at the same time.


Carlos Ghosn had challenges implementing change and turning around Nissan's operations in order to make it profitable. He formed multiple cross-functional teams to reduce employee pushback and recommend a robust action plan for different functions. He developed a strong change management strategy to tackle various business challenges and increased employee involvement in the change journey through effective communication and positive reinforcement.


To refreeze the behavioural change of the team members, he introduced performance-based pay, empowered employees to try non-conventional methods, and implemented an open feedback system for guiding and facilitating the employees in enhancing workplace adaptability.


Netflix


Ronald R Sims wrote a book, Human Resource (Talent) Development, where he alludes to Netflix, which has used Lewin's framework to adjust to the digital era. The Netflix organizational change process handled the force of organizational change to achieve a competitive advantage.


A case study on Netflix shows that Netflix is becoming famous day by day for its easy accessibility, quality and sophisticated features. After all, the adoption and adoption of new technology are inevitable approaches to exceeding customer demand. In the 21st century, people do not want to allocate extra time to go to the cinema hall. People used to go to the cinema hall to watch new movies before watching movies at home on Netflix. New technology, including a computer, laptops, and smartphones, entertain people easily through internet service.


Netflix was founded in 1997 in California, USA. However, in 1998, Netflix started its business by selling DVDs and rentals by mail. The product was a rent-by-mail DVD, and the payment system was the pay-per-rental model.


The following year, in 1999, Netflix launched its new subscription feature for customers to rent DVDs at a monthly rate. This service allowed subscribers to enjoy unlimited DVD rentals with monthly payments. So, the change was to convert the pay-for-use model into a monthly subscription model.


In 2007, Netflix introduced a new video streaming feature for films and television series. The proper utilization of the force of change has helped to achieve success. Finally, in 2011, Netflix introduced its mobile apps and iOS service for smartphone users. Smartphone users can download the apps for free from Google as well as the Apple Play Store.


Today, it is a successful global company and a real-life example of Lewin's change management model.


McDonald's


In 2017, McDonald's implemented Lewin's change model to overhaul its business strategy and operations. At the time, McDonald's was struggling to keep up with changing consumer preferences and was losing market share to competitors.


McDonald's recognized the need for change and began by unfreezing its current business model. The company's leadership team communicated the need for change to the employees, explaining why the traditional fast-food model was no longer effective and how the new changes would benefit the company and its customers.


McDonald's then began implementing changes to its business model and operations, such as introducing an all-day breakfast, creating more customizable options for its menu, and revamping its in-store technology to improve efficiency and customer experience. These changes were based on customer research and feedback and aimed at meeting customers' evolving needs.


At this point, franchisees and staff who were used to the previous procedures offered some pushback to McDonald's. The company's executive team persisted in emphasizing the advantages of the modifications, and they collaborated with staff members and franchisees to make sure they had the tools and training they needed to adjust to the new model.


McDonald's fully implemented the changes and was then able to evaluate their success. The necessary adjustments were made, and the new business model was solidified by incorporating it into the company's policies and culture. Employees who adapted to the changes were recognized and rewarded, and the company constantly continues to monitor and assess the effectiveness of its business model and operations to this day.


Related: Change management models: Everything you need to know


PROS and CONS for using this framework


Pros


It is Easy to Understand


The simplicity of Lewin's Change Model is one of its greatest strengths. It is a streamlined, easily understandable strategy to help organizations manage and adapt to change. Lewin's model consists of just three stages, after all, so anyone can figure it out and utilize it. This approach also works for teams of various sizes and in numerous industries.


It focuses on Behaviour


The behavioural psychology used in the Kurt Lewin change model gets to the heart of what causes people to either resist or support change. Lewin had a clear understanding of how humans' minds work and how they typically respond to change. He used this information to create a simple model that breaks down human behaviours in easily understandable ways. This focus on people is actually in agreement with many other change models out there that also focus on the human element of change.


The Model Makes Sense


When going through the Kurt Lewin change model, the Unfreeze, Change, Freeze logic makes sense to many people. Its simplicity helps people get a better understanding of change management as a whole without getting lost in a lot of industry jargon or complicated steps.


Creates Sustainable Change


Lewin's Change Model works wonders for implementing long-term, sustainable change when used correctly. Lewin recognized that gaining people's buy-in for changes to their business operations or job duties took time. He was also aware of how critical it was to get support and have prepared answers for typical arguments.


Lewin used these insights to develop a paradigm that enables managers and team leaders to implement changes, justify their needs, and mentor staff members until they are prepared to accept and welcome the changes.


Cons


Lacks in-depth information


Kurt Lewin's Change Model is not detailed enough. Some may think that Lewin's change management model is a little too simple. It does not offer detailed guidance on how to implement the changes in specific contexts, which may require additional research and planning. It does not provide detailed strategies or tactics for managing change, which may require additional tools and approaches.


The model is too rigid and outdated


Kurt Lewin's model's Freeze stage is occasionally criticized for being rigid because, given how quickly technology is developing and how businesses must adapt to be competitive, it "freezes" behaviours that won't need to be unfrozen for some time. They believe there should be greater flexibility in the last step. Given that Kurt Lewin created his theory in 1947—long before technology played such a significant role in modern workplaces—and since Max Weber developed his theory much earlier, one may claim that Kurt Lewin's thesis is a little out of date.


Limited Emphasis on Continuous Change


The model's emphasis on refreezing implies a return to stability and permanence. However, in today's rapidly changing business environment, organizations often need to embrace continuous change and adaptability rather than striving for a static state.


Potential resistance to refreezing


The final stage of Lewin's model, refreezing, involves stabilizing the change and embedding it into the organization's culture and practices. However, there is a risk that individuals and organizations may resist refreezing and revert to old ways of doing things. This can undermine the sustainability of the change and require ongoing efforts to maintain the desired outcomes.


It is too simple


It assumes that change can be planned and controlled in a sequential and orderly manner and that once the change is implemented, it can be frozen and maintained. However, in reality, change is often emergent, chaotic, and nonlinear and requires flexibility and adaptation to changing circumstances and feedback.



Challenges of Lewin's 3-Stage Model in Action


Resistance to change


People are often hesitant to change their habits, routines, and ways of working, which can create resistance and pushback against the change initiative. This resistance can come in different forms, like skepticism, fear, anxiety, or outright opposition. If resistance to change is not addressed, it can ruin the change initiative and prevent it from being successful.


Inadequate resources


To make change initiatives successful, organizations need to allocate sufficient time, money, and other resources. When resources are lacking, implementation can be compromised, and quality can suffer. Employees may also resist changes if they feel unsupported or overworked, making it difficult to maintain momentum. 


Organizations should identify and allocate the necessary resources appropriately, whether that means securing more funding or staffing, re-prioritizing existing resources, or finding creative solutions to resource constraints. This will increase the likelihood of successful implementation and help achieve the desired outcomes of the change initiative.


Inadequate training


In order to successfully implement change initiatives, employees must receive proper employee training and end-user support. Failing to do so can result in frustration, mistakes, and resistance among employees, which can ultimately hinder the success of the change effort. 


To prevent this, invest in creating effective training materials, conducting workshops, providing coaching, and offering ongoing feedback and support. Organizations can greatly increase their chances of achieving the desired outcomes by taking these steps to ensure that employees possess the knowledge and skills necessary to support the change initiative.


Ultimately, Lewin's Change Management Model provides a valuable framework for navigating organizational change. When properly following the stages of unfreezing, moving, and refreezing, organizations can increase the likelihood of successful change implementation. It is important to note that change management is an ongoing process that requires effective leadership, clear communication, and continuous evaluation. Leveraging Lewin's model and adapting it to their specific context, organizations can embrace change as an opportunity for growth and innovation.


Related: The hard side of change management


Theollah Suela
Consultant
This article was written by Theollah a Consultant at Industrial Psychology Consultants (Pvt) Ltd

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