In the early 20th century, the psychologist Kurt Lewin developed the model – known as “Lewin’s Freeze Phases” – and which still forms the underlying basis of many change management theories models and strategies for managing change.
His model suggests that change involves a move from one static state via a state of activity to another static status quo -and all this via a three-stage process of managing change: unfreezing, changing and re-freezing.
Kurt Lewin’s change model recognises that people like the safety, comfort and feeling of control within their environment. It also recognises that they derive a strong sense of identity to from their environment.
Thus change is threatening to that status quo and causes discomfort. Lewin regarded this as a ‘frozen’ state and suggested that significant effort may be required to ‘unfreeze’ them in order to get them to change. This usually requires some form of intervention to to get them moving – such as a restructuring, or the creation of a some form of real crisis – or the perception that it is real! Or, another common strategy is to present the “cold hard logic” of “irrefutable facts” that make change inevitable – basically, any form of intervention that is designed to destabilise people and render them susceptible to change.
A key part of Lewin’s model is the idea that change, even at the psychological level, is a journey rather than a simple step. This journey may not be that simple and the person may need to go through several stages of misunderstanding before they get to the other side.
Many different approaches are used to achieve this and frequently fail. In fact 70% of ALL change management initiatives fail.
It is painfully clear that managing the transition requires time and sensitive skillful leadership – exercised within people-focused change management processes.
Then the final phase is the “refreezing” – which basically means institutionalising the change – and many differing approaches are used to attempt to achieve this. However, as already stated, most don’t succeed!
In my view, the Kurt Lewin change model is very mechanistic and comes from a Newtonian world view and a control oriented view of change that is imposed from the top down.
However, I feel there is value in Lewin’s model in that recognises that (a) people are “stuck” or attached to “how things are” and thus potentially resistant to change, and (b) that there are stages to change process and the change experience.
Clearly what is needed is a change management process that is people oriented and that takes full account of the human dimension of the change process.
Strategies for managing change in the current economic and business climate are exercised to best effect when employing the holistic and wide view perspective of a programme based approach to change management.