Lewin’s Change process

Often, the trickiest part of implementing an organizational change is overcoming employees’ resistance. The change may require the cooperation of dozens or even hundreds of managers and supervisors, many of whom might well view the change as detrimental to their well being and peace of mind. Resistance may therefore be considerable.

Psychologists Kurt Lewin formulated the classic explanation of how to implement change in the face of resistance. To Lewin, all behavior in organizations was a product of two kinds of forces – those striving to maintain the status quo and those pushing for change. Implementing change thus meant either weakening the status quo forces or building up the forces for change. Lewin’s change process consisted of these three steps.

1. Unfreezing: Unfreezing means reducing the forces that are striving to maintain the status quo, usually by presenting as provocative problem or event to get people to recognize the need for change and to search for new solutions.
2. Moving means developing new behaviors, values, and attitude, some times through structural changes and sometimes through the sorts of HR-based organizational change and development techniques explained later in this article. The aim is to alter people’s behavior.
3. Refreezing: It is assumed that organizations tend to revert to their former ways of doing things unless you reinforce the changes. How do you do this? By “refreezing” the organization into its new equilibrium. Specifically, instituting new systems and procedures such as new compensation plans and appraisal processes to support and maintain the changes.

Successful change agents are observed to employ three distinct but linked campaigns in their initiatives. A political campaign creates a coalition strong enough to support and guide the initiative. A marketing campaign taps into employees’ thoughts and feelings that effectively communicate messages about the prospective program’s theme and benefits. And finally, a military campaign deploys executives’ scarce resources of attention and time to actually carry out the change. Let us look closely at how to actually lead the organizational change process.

In practice, leading an organizational change involves a multi-step process starting with the “political” aspects of overcoming resistance and creating a guiding coalition.

1. Establish a sense of urgency. Having become aware of the need to change, most leaders start by creating a sense of urgency. This step often takes some creativity. For example, when former Charles Schwab CEO David Pottruck kicked off his firm’s new strategy, he got about 100 of the firm’s senior managers together near San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge. Each manager got a jacket that said CROSSING THE CHASM, and then together they crossed the bridge. Pottruck calls this the start of reinventing his company.
2. Mobilize commitment through joint diagnosis of problems. Having established a sense of urgency, the leader may then create one or more task forces to diagnose the problems facing the company. Such teams can produce a shared understanding of what they can and must improve and thereby the commitment of those who must actually implement the change.
3. Create a guiding coalition. Major transformations like that at Avon are sometimes associated with just one or two highly visible leaders. But no one can really implement such changes alone. Most companies create a guiding coalition of influential people, who work together as a team to act as missionaries and implementers.
4. Develop a shared vision. Organizational renewal also requires a new leadership vision, a general statement of the organization’s intended direction that evokes emotional feelings in organization members. For example, when Barry Gibbons became CEO of Spec’s Music some years ago, its employees, owners, and bankers – all its stakeholders required a vision of a renewed Spec’s, around which they could rally. Gibbon’s vision of a leaner Spec’s offering a diversified blend of concerts and retail music helped provide this sense of direction.
5. Communicate the vision. Change expert John Kotter says the real power of a vision is unleashed only when most of those involved in an enterprise or activity have a common understanding of its goals and directions. To do this, you have to communicate he vision.

The key elements in doing so include,

* Keep it simple: Eliminate all jargon and wasted words. Fr example: We are going to become faster than anyone else in our industry at satisfying customer needs
* Use multiple forums: Try to use every channel possible big meetings and small, memos and newspapers, formal and informal interaction to spread the word.
* Use repetition: Ideas sink in deeply only after employees have heard them many times.
* Lead by example: Walk your talk – make sure your behaviors and decisions are consistent with the vision you espouse.

Help employees to make the change. It’s futile to communicate your vision and to have employees want to make it a reality, if they haven’t the means to do so. Perhaps a lack of skills stands in the way; or policies, procedures, and the organization chart make it difficult to act; or some intransigent managers may actually discourage employees from acting.

  • This was a very enlightening and ensuring article. Ensuring because it sort of gives me the feeling that there IS a way to handle “change management” effectively. Interesting article. Thank you!