Understanding Lewin’s 3-Step Change Management Model
Change is constant, and learning to accept change is a critical factor for thriving in the modern workplace. Developing adaptability to change, also known as “change agility,” means seeing change as an ongoing opportunity, rather than a threat or liability. One way to successfully facilitate company-wide change and to help managers lead their teams through change is by employing an approach like Lewin’s Change Management Model.
Introducing Lewin’s Change Management Model
Kurt Lewin, a social psychologist, was a leader in change management and a pioneer in the research of group dynamics and organizational development. Lewin observed that people naturally resist change and seek out what’s familiar and comfortable. He surmised that any disruption affecting group structure also affects an individual’s behavior and capacity to change. Based on his research, in 1947 Lewin introduced a three-step change management model that allows organizations to prepare employees for change, execute on the change, and integrate the change into an organizational structure. By approaching change as a process with distinct phases, and by communicating with the workforce clearly throughout each phase of the process, organizations can manage change more effectively with better outcomes.
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The 3 stages of change
Lewin simplified this change management strategy and broke it down into three stages: unfreeze, change, refreeze. This naming convention is based on Lewin’s analogy of changing the shape of an ice block. To do so, you’d need to first melt the ice, pour the resulting water into a new container of your desired shape, and then refreeze it to solidify its new form.
Let’s take a closer look at these stages.
Stage 1: Unfreeze
In this first stage, a team or organization must unfreeze its current process to prepare for the upcoming change. For example, say you’ve identified a quarterly reporting process you want to change and made a plan for doing so. You’ll want to first meet with any employees for their opinion on the current process and measure their reactions to your proposed new process. You gather any information you may have missed when planning for this new process, and it lets stakeholders know a change is coming.
Stage 2: Change
Once a process or old way of doing things is unfrozen, it’s time to implement the new solution. Lewin recognized this stage is the most difficult to complete since employees will often view it as creating uncertainty. The uncertainty could be related to many things, from whom they will report to new success metrics they will need to report on. It’s crucial at this stage to offer proactive and clear communication to the workforce on the status of the change. This helps to mitigate employees’ apprehensions and accustom them to a new normal.
Stage 3: Refreeze
Finally, it’s time to refreeze. That is, to lock in place the new normal of processes, behaviors, and strategies. Lewin found this step pivotal to ensure that teams didn’t revert to their old and more familiar behaviors. Managers and leaders should take the time to reinforce the change, find ways to promote it and create feedback loops with the employees undertaking the change.
It’s helpful to frame the refreeze stage as a time for employees to practice and refine their interactions with this new way of doing things. For instance, try offering ongoing training in this new process so that employees don’t fall victim to the forgetting curve. Like learning a new language, the more you flex the muscles related to change and learning, the more intuitive it becomes for the organization.
Turn and face the change
Ignoring change doesn’t make it go away. It only makes it harder for employees to adapt. Remove employees’ fear of change by providing a framework for employees to reference during the change process. Lewin’s Change Management Model is a simple framework worth exploring at your organization.
Read more about guiding change, specifically with the goal of increasing your employees’ innovation skills in Addressing the Skills Gaps That Hinder Innovation.