Lewin's Change Model - everything you need to know

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    Home / Growth / Lewin's Change Model - everything you need to know

    If you truly want to understand something, try to change it.

    Kurt Lewin

    What do you get when you combine the thoughts of Kurt Lewin, a World War II veteran and renowned social psychologist, with his research on human behavior?

    You get one of the most influential models in organizational psychology - Lewin's change model.

    The model describes three phases that people go through as they make changes in their lives. These phases are unfreezing, changing, and refreezing

    Understanding this process can help us better understand how to promote change in our own organizations.

    Before getting into it, you can also check Kotter’s 8-Step Change Management Model and McKinsey’s 7-S Change Management Model.

    Also, if you want to dive deeper into the change management subject, you can check out these books!

    What is Lewin's Change Management Model?

    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. 

    The three stages of this process include unfreezing (the person has an existing state), moving or changing towards new ways of being, and then refreezing into a new state altogether!

    The first phase of the process involves everything required for someone to become ready and willing to make a change. This state, when they are not yet committed or certain is called unfreezing. For example, it could involve anything from finding out about a problem to receiving the go-ahead for action.

    In the second phase, people actually make a change. This implies moving or changing, and it's usually not easy! People face a number of different challenges, from being uncomfortable to feeling uncertain about making changes. 

    Employees might also feel as though they were losing something important by leaving their old ways behind, which would fall under resistance during this period.

    In the final phase, people are able to refreeze into a new state finally. This is when they accept their changes and feel like it was worth all the energy that was channeled into making them! 

    They may also feel more comfortable than ever about what's going on in their lives right now. When employees make positive changes at work, they begin to feel motivated and committed!

    If all three phases are completed successfully, it can be said that the change management process has been successful!

    Lewin's change management model can be applied to a wide range of scenarios. 

    For instance, it helps you understand why some people and organizations are more motivated by the need for social approval than by financial incentives, and it teaches you how to go about engaging employees in important organizational changes.

    But to understand it better, let’s take a deeper look at each step of Lewin’s change model.

    lewin's change model step by step

    Lewin's Change Management Model Explained (Step-by-Step)

    As you now know what Lewin's change management model is, let's look at each step in-depth and see how you can apply it to your own organization.

    This model involves three steps - unfreezing, moving, and refreezing:

    Phase I – Unfreezing

    This first step of change is to prepare the organization to accept that changes are needed, whether they are financial, managerial, or organizational. This is a necessary step and can be achieved by first recognizing the need for change and then creating an awareness of it among employees.

    The key here is to create a compelling narrative that explains why the current way of doing things cannot be continued. 

    This is easier to convey when you can point to falling sales numbers, poor financial outcomes, negative customer satisfaction surveys, or other similar data.

    To properly prepare the organization, you must begin at its foundation - you must question the ideas, values, attitudes, and behaviors that define your company. Using a construction analogy, you must evaluate and be prepared to modify the present foundations since they may not sustain additional floors. If this is not done, the entire structure may collapse.

    This is generally the most challenging and stressful aspect of the change process. 

    When you start to alter the "how things are done", you throw everyone and everything off balance.

    You may elicit strong reactions from people, which is precisely what needs to be done.

    By pushing the company to re-examine its core values, you effectively create a (managed) crisis, which can provide a strong motivation to seek out a new equilibrium. Without this incentive, you will not be able to gain the buy-in and engagement required to make real change.

    Phase II - Change

    Once the organization is ready to move, you must begin acting on your ideas. 

    You need to eliminate any resistance that currently exists by focusing on short-term wins and a clear communication strategy. 

    Because guess what? When people are uncertain about change, they will often make choices based on their fears rather than anticipating gains or rewards.

    To gain support and momentum, you must be able to show that your idea holds practical value for the organization. You will typically do this by showing how it can contribute to productivity gains or increased financial performance in some way.

    To further engender buy-in, use a "selling" strategy on key influencers rather than trying to convince everyone at once. If you are successful in engaging the right people, they will help to promote your ideas and bring others on board.

    It’s also important to celebrate milestones and victories along the way, which will reinforce people's belief that they are making progress while feeling good about themselves in general. 

    This should be done publicly whenever possible so it generates more momentum among those who have not yet been won over.

    Phase III – Refreezing

    The final stage of Lewin's change model is refreezing, when the organization moves from making changes to "business as usual" (the new status quo). 

    This means that everyone has bought into the changes and is committed to maintaining them.

    The best way to do this is to use a "consolidation" strategy where you take time to review what has been accomplished so far, celebrate successes, and resolve any outstanding issues that may have come up along the way.

    If everything goes well, your organization is now much stronger than before and more capable of dealing with future challenges.

    If you did not succeed during one or both of the previous phases, it’s crucial to take a step back to carry out a self-assessment in order to understand where things went wrong so you can make necessary adjustments for the next time around. This will allow your organization to learn from its mistakes rather than repeat them.

    And how do you reinforce your precautions towards a better-executed change for the next time?

    Here are some tips that will help you with the successful implementation of a change:

    - You must build an ongoing support network within your organization, including both active participants as well as new supporters (i.e., those who may not yet understand why the change occurred but are willing to go along with it).

    - You need to implement new behaviors and develop habits that will support your idea. This includes modifying processes, routines, and "rules of the game" in a way that reinforces desired actions. For example, if you want people to be more innovative or creative, then adjust their reward system so they are motivated to take the risks associated with trying new ideas.

    - You need to create a sense of urgency around your idea by showing how it could be put at risk if people do not act quickly or decisively enough. This will help keep people focused on their work and make them less likely to fall back into old routines that contributed in part to the initial problems being addressed.

    - You need to establish a clear set of metrics that can be used as an ongoing way to measure success and clearly show how much progress is being made. This will also help maintain momentum in the future since people will know what they are aiming for and where they stand in relation to it.

    - You need to be ready for people's resistance by having a strategy in place that can help you overcome it. This means involving those who may have been resistant from the start, as well as developing "bridging" activities that will bring new supporters on board quickly and effectively.

    Questions You Should Answer Before Starting Change Initiative for Maximum Success

    Unfreeze 🔥

    1️⃣ Determine what needs to change

    • What is the problem?
    • How do we need to act now?
    • What do we need to change, and how did the problem occur?
    • Ensure there is strong support from senior management.
    • What is the current situation like?
    • Who are we going to rely on for support?
    • How does senior management feel about this change, and what can be done to ensure they're active participants in making it happen?

    2️⃣ Create the need for change

    • Why do we need to change, and what is the threat of not changing?
    • How can you do this as quickly and efficiently as possible so that everyone feels a sense of urgency around making it happen?
    • What are some activities or actions that will help bring people on board with your idea and show them how it will help improve their work and the company as a whole?
    • How can we incorporate these activities into our overall strategy so that they are effective, but not distracting from what's really important right now?

    3️⃣ Manage and understand  doubts and concerns that people have about the change

    • Who is likely to resist this idea?
    • What are some of their concerns, and how can they be addressed effectively so that you're able to move forward with your plan while also showing people why it's necessary for them to do something different in order for the whole company to succeed?
    • How can these concerns be addressed in a way that will help remove the resistance to change and allow people to focus on how they want the entire company to move forward?
    • What’s the plan for overcoming this resistance, making sure it doesn't occur again, and maintaining momentum going forward so we continue with the right changes?
    • How can we keep people moving forward with this change, even if it takes some time to do so and doesn't happen quickly or easily?

    Change 🔀

    1️⃣ Communicate the change

    • How are the changes you're making going to impact people, and what will they need to know?
    • Who needs to be involved in this process so it's as effective as possible for everyone concerned?
    • What information do your employees or stakeholders really need from you so they can continue working effectively?
    • How will you communicate this information, and how often?
    • What are some activities or elements of your communication strategy that could be distracting from what's really important right now if they're not implemented correctly?
    • What’s the plan for maintaining momentum going forward so you continue with the right changes in an effective way despite the obstacles that you may encounter along the way?

    2️⃣ Dispel rumors and address concerns

    • What are some of the key issues or questions people have about what's going on, and how can they be addressed effectively?
    • How can you dispel rumors or address concerns in an efficient way so that people don't have to worry about things going wrong but instead feel comfortable with the changes they're asked to make?
    • How can you address these concerns in a way that shows people why the changes you're making are necessary and where they fit into the bigger picture?
    • How can you move past these concerns in a way that doesn't let problems fester and cause more damage but instead helps them be resolved quickly?

    3️⃣ Empower action

    • How can you empower people to be part of the change process and not just passive participants?
    • What are some activities or actions that will help people feel like they're part of the change process and can actively influence what happens instead of just being told what to do?
    • How can you empower these people in a way that shows them how their plans, ideas, or concerns fit into your overall strategy so you can collectively move forward?

    Refreeze ❄️

    1️⃣ Anchor the changes into the culture

    • How are these changes going to be communicated to the staff, and what's the best way to do that?
    • How can you anchor these changes into your culture so people don't feel like they're constantly changing what's expected of them?
    • How can you make sure that these changes aren't just a temporary fix but a part of the way you’ll do things moving forward?
    • How can you make sure these changes are fully integrated into your company culture and not constantly modified so people know how to act regardless of what's being asked of them in different situations?

    2️⃣ Develop ways to sustain the change

    • What's the best way to sustain the change moving forward so it becomes a part of what you do as an organization?
    • How can you develop sustainable practices that will help keep everyone focused on these changes, and how are they going to positively impact everyone involved rather than just making them feel like there’s one more thing they have to think about?
    • What can you do to sustain this change and avoid constantly going back to the drawing board, but instead making it become part of your process moving forward?
    • Create a reward system that reinforces the change you want to see.
    • What are some other things that can be done to keep these changes going forward so people don't feel like they're obliged to do something but instead become aware it’s part of what drives the company?

    3️⃣ Establish a feedback system

    • What are some ways you can measure the success of these changes so people can tell if they're actually effective, and how do you want to be notified about them?
    • How will this change process fit into your weekly/monthly reporting structure in order to keep everyone accountable for what's going on?
    • What are some activities that will help you evaluate the success of these changes, and how will this feedback loop look moving forward?
    • How can you establish a feedback system that ensures people know what they're working towards, and how can they measure their success based on what's being asked of them?
    • What are some activities that you should do in order to determine if these changes are actually working as expected so people don't feel like they're always guessing about the impact of what they're doing?

    4️⃣ Adapt the organizational structure where necessary

    • What are some ways of adapting the organizational structure to accommodate these changes?
    • How do you need to adjust your reporting structures in order for everyone involved with this change effort to not just feel like they're carrying an additional workload, but also that it's necessary and a part of meeting their overall goals moving forward?
    • What are some goals that make sure the organizational structure is set up in a way that allows people to be successful, and how will it be adjusted if there’s a  need to shift things around?
    • How can you adapt the current organizational system so these changes don't impose more work on everyone involved without having an impact on their overall performance numbers or their compensation?
    • What else can you do to adjust your current organizational system to help people meet their goals moving forward, rather than just making them feel like there’s another thing they have to do without getting anything out of the deal?

    5️⃣ Celebrate success!

    • What are some ways to celebrate the success of these changes?
    • How will you reward those involved for what they've done to help make this change a reality?
    • What are some ways to celebrate this change so people feel like it's worth their time and effort rather than just something they’ve had to do because the management said so?
    • How can you make sure these changes aren't just seen as a burden but as something people truly want to be a part of?
    • How can you celebrate the success of these changes in order for everyone involved to feel like they're not the only ones pulling their weight but to feel what they do matters and impacts the overall company's goals?
    pros and cons of lewin's change model

    What’s Good About This Model?

    Let's take a look at some of the benefits that Lewin's Change Management Model offers:

    ✅ It's a proactive approach to change management.

    ✅ Rather than constantly fighting against pushback, you're able to use this model as an effective way of controlling the shift.

    ✅ You can create sustainable changes that are part of your company's culture moving forward.

    ✅ People don't have to feel like they're always in a catch-up mode or they're making changes just to meet the latest management fad.

    ✅ This model helps ensure people feel like the change is a part of what drives your company rather than something you have to do.

    ✅ It focuses on people as the source of change and learning.

    Lewin's Change Management Model is a great way to manage the shift when it comes to large-scale change projects. It focuses on people as the most valuable asset moving forward, which helps ensure that those involved in making changes feel like they aren't just there for show but are part of what makes your company successful.

    What’s Bad About This Model?

    When it comes to the disadvantages of Lewin's Change Management Model, the biggest one is that the model doesn't lend itself well to quick or short-term change initiatives.

    ❌ It's best used as part of longer-term projects where you're trying to implement sustainable culture shifts and make changes that are part of your company's overall goals and what it stands for.

    ❌ It can be complicated to implement, especially if you don't have the right change management tools and resources in place.

    As long as you're okay with a slower approach when it comes to change management initiatives, this model can be a great tool to help you make the shift.

    However, if you want something that will produce quick results and drive change quickly, it might not be your best option.

    Change Management Books

    1- Planned Change: Why Kurt Lewin's Social Science is Still Best Practice for Business Results, Change Management, and Human Progress - by Gilmore Crosby

    Gilmore Crosby is an Organization and Leadership Development Professional who roots his methods in Lewin's Change Management Model.

    His book is an elaboration of Kurt Lewin's teachings. Reading this book, you can better understand what Kurt Lewin actually states and means. The book also helps you better internalize Lewin's ideas and guides you through the process of planned change. It breaks down how Lewin's Change Management Model can be applied at the individual, group, or organizational level.

    2- Making Sense of Change Management: A Complete Guide to the Models, Tools and Techniques of Organizational Change - by Esther Cameron and Mike Green

    Esther Cameron is a change adviser who guides senior leaders and their teams and organizations through change. Alongside Esther Cameron, Mike Green is the co-author of the top-selling book. He is also the author of the Change Management Masterclass. He has been guiding individuals, teams, and organizations to manage change.

    The book guides readers comprehensively through change management and shows how change management models can be combined with workable techniques and approaches that organizations can use. This is the fifth edition of the top-selling book, and in this revised version of the book, you will find new chapters on digital transformation and becoming a sustainable business, new material on resilience, well-being, and effective leadership, and new examples from organizations including Google, Burberry, and Volvo.

    3- Leading Change - by John P. Kotter

    John Kotter is a founder of a management consulting firm and a professor at Harvard Business School. His business applies the 8 methods he mentions in his book to help manage change on a large scale.

    Kotter's 8-step process to manage change is now widely accepted. Leading Change is now among the top resources to guide managers and leaders to navigate their way through the process of large-scale change. He elaborates on the process that any organization must go through when trying to be successful. Touching upon the points where some organizations fail in the process, Kotter provides an all-around guide for change management.


    Lewin's Change Management Model is one of the best models you can use to help manage large-scale change initiatives.

    It focuses on people as the most valuable resource, which helps ensure that those involved feel like they play an important part in what makes your company successful and therefore are more likely to embrace these changes without feeling resentful or resistant.

    You can also use this model to ensure that the changes you're implementing are sustainable and a part of your company's overall goals moving forward.

    Keep in mind that a change model is not something you can just read about once and expect to remember all later on. It requires a serious, ongoing commitment if you want it to work effectively for your company and help make the difference that everyone is hoping for.

    So hopefully, when the day comes, you will revisit this article and guarantee success 💪

    Frequently Asked Questions

    What are Lewin's 3 stages of change?

    Lewin’s change model focuses on 3 stages which are: unfreezing, changing, and refreezing.

    Why use Lewin’s change model?

    Lewin’s change model lends itself to companies and all who wish to implement a change process to help change stick while taking people as its resource and focusing on change first and foremost.

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