Lewin’s change model is arguably the most influential work in the field of organisational change management. Created in the 1940’s, Lewin’s change model consists of three key phases; unfreezing, changing and refreezing. These stages can also be labelled as before, during and after the change.
The first stage involves preparing an organisation to accept a change in the future. That is done through breaking down the existing hierarchies before you can install new ones. This is achieved through the creation of a compelling message that communicates why the current way of work cannot continue. This process is very difficult; change managers need to challenge the beliefs and attitudes that currently prevail in the workplace. When managers and workers are challenged in their methods there is often strong reactions and emotions surrounding this period of upheaval. Forcing people to think strategically about the way things are done, and getting people to challenge the idea that ‘it is that way because that’s the way it’s always been done’ is a tough but necessary process to be able to instigate a lasting change project.
The unfreezing stage is marked with upheaval, while the change stage sees a resolution to a lot of the uncertainty created previously. This is where people discover the new ways of working, and confidence grows in the new methods. During this period, staff are continually adjusting but some staff will not benefit from change as much as others. This requires increased attention and flexible training methods to ensure these staff members do not disengage from the project.
The end of the change stage is marked by increased stability and comfort with the new status quo. This refreezing takes shape with increased adoption and uptake of the new methods. The changes must be institutionalised and incorporated into the organisational culture going forward.
Lewin’s change model is a basic framework to instigate a change in a manageable way. Its limitations are quite obvious and clear. It is not very flexible, and it lacks the same complexities displayed by the organisations that it is designed to change. As a change manager, I believe that people should use Lewin’s model with caution, as it is not compatible with the complicated modern organisations of today and it was not designed for this either. The model still has some merit in modern organisations, such as local councils and education providers who are typically structured and operating in a more traditional style. And lastly, for organisations that are quite agile, change managers, should firstly look at richer models such as Kanter’s Change Model and Kotter’s Eight Steps.