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CASE STUDY: LEWINS 3 STEP MODEL OF CHANGE APPLIED

STUDENT ID: 14068621

BUSINESS PSYCHOLOGY
MANAGING ORGANISATIONAL CULTURE AND CHANGE
2015

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This case study aims at analysing an organisational change and
applying retrospectively Lewins 3-step model for it to be successful.
First, the organisational change is explained in terms of how it took
place, the expected outcomes and the actual result of the reform. The role
change attempted had seen issues regarding both Saboteur type of
resistance to change (OConnor, 1993) for some employees, as well as the
homeostasis phenomenon (Cameron & Esther, 2009, p. 111). Change
management approaches are then briefly described emphasizing on Lewins
work which emerged in 1946 (Bamford & Forrester, 2003).
As a natural follow-up the 3-step model is both explained and applied
on the organisational change. Some problems do stand out in the second and
third step (Moving and Refreezing), where either continuous research and
evaluation of the subjects may not prove to be valid due to the Hawthorne
effect (Mayo, 1933), or because the Refreezings need for changing norms
and culture diverges the change to a different outcome. A discussion which
outlines some recommendations for as this model to be efficient in this
particular change scenario builds upon these findings choosing an
ethnographic type of research for the second step, and even completely
ignoring the third step in order for an effective outcome.

Role change in an organisation


The organisational change being analysed in this case study is that of
role change in particular in a construction company from Romania between
2010 and 2012.

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The construction company was back then (before the change) one of
the top firms in the market, with over 700 employees and enough jobs to
justify the need for a high number of tip lorries and thus tip-lorry drivers.
However in the third trimester of 2009 the Global Financial Crisis had hit
Romania and therefore hit the organisation as well. While struggling to find
enough or big enough jobs and with payment delays, some changes had to
be made. A number of changes have been attempted but the change that is
going to be discussed in this case study regards tip-lorry drivers in particular.
In the case of less and less work demands, instead of laying off some
of them, the management had decided that almost half of the drivers either
were to be assigned guard jobs on work sites, or be sent home for 75% the
wage. This followed the idea that the best drivers shouldnt be sacked, as
good times will come around. Even though the management tried to explain
the situation and tried to present the prospect of a better future, the
communication channels with the particular employees were being altered
(because of intermediaries) and usually the receiver understood very little of
what was going on while at the same time seeing it as an immediate order
that had to be obeyed. The change was quite sudden because of that, and
even if they had accepted it at first, they seemed to gradually reject it more
and more, until finally a good part of them resigned 6 months, up to a year
afterwards. The type of resistance to change was similar to OConnors
Saboteur type for some of the employees, verbally accepting the change but
not embracing it at all, hoping that it will go away (OConnor, 1993).
Moreover, the notion of homeostasis comes to play - the likelihood of
an organisation to preserve its balance in response to disturbing changes and

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having a natural predilection of adjusting itself back to the original stable state
(Cameron & Esther, 2009, p.111). This means actually, that changes, even if
initially enforced and started well, lost its meaningfulness in time due to lack of
sustainability. People reverted to their old habits and thinking ways, in this
case regressing to the state when they despised change and resigning as a
result.

Change management
Three types of change management approaches have been conceived
over the years: the planned change, emergent change and the
situational/contingency approach (Todnem By, 2005). The planned and
emergent approaches are, however predominant in literature (Bamford &
Forrester, 2003) while there still is no universally accepted approach that
could describe the changes an organisation needs to do or how to implement
them (Burnes, 2004).
The planned approach to change emerged in 1946 by Lewin (Bamford
& Forrester, 2003), and he suggested that before change and new behaviour
could be acquired successfully, the previous behaviour has to be abandoned
(Lewin, 1946). Even if the 3-Step model of change is often accounted for
separately, apart from Lewins Field Theory, Group Dynamics and Action
Research theories, Lewin thought them out as a whole. Each of the
components sustains and strengthens the others, while all of them may be
required to understand and enforce the planned change either at individual,
group, organisation or even society level (Bargal and Bar, 1992;
Kippenberger, 1998a, 1998b; Smith, 2001).

STUDENT ID: 14068621

The 3-step model applied


A successful change scheme involves three steps according to Lewin:
Unfreezing, Moving and Refreezing (1947a).
Step 1: Unfreezing
Lewin (1947a) trusted that the steadiness of human behaviour was
built on a quasi-stationary equilibrium sustained by a complex mechanism of
driving and repressing forces. He claimed that the equilibrium requires
destabilisation(unfreezing) before the old behaviour could be abandoned and
new behaviour successfully embraced. But also he did not assume that the
same approach would be valid in all situations. Allport explains a catharsis is
required before the impairment may be removed. To attain self-satisfaction
and self-righteousness, some drastic emotional change is sometimes needed
(Lewin, 1947a, p.229). Schein also adds that the key for unfreezing to happen
is to acknowledge that change either at individual or group level, is a deep
psychological dynamic process (1996, p.27). Schein also found that three
actions are needed for achieving unfreezing: the denial of the validity of the
existing condition, the instatement of guilt or survival anxiety and also the
creation of psychological security (1996). But also, he states that if
psychological security doesnt take place, then no surviving anxiety is to come
to place and the discrediting information will not be contested. Those involved
have to feel sheltered from loss and humiliation ahead of accepting the new
and rejecting the old behaviours (Schein, 1996, p.61).
In the case of the role change in this particular organisation, the denial
of the validity should have been done by making the tip-lorry drivers

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understand that their initial jobs are no longer viable and that role change is a
somewhat necessary evil so that they would continue with their normal lives.
Also, the drivers needed to empathise with management and feel that in those
unique economic conditions this was the only way of them supporting the
organisation so the instatement of guilt comes into place. But even though
as mentioned before, these two issues have been roughly dealt with, the key
aspect which Schein underlines (1996) was not vigorously approached the
psychological safety. The workers hadnt been properly looked after in this
way, some of them feeling somehow ashamed of their possibly boring jobs in
contrast to their initial qualifications. A way to deal with this couldve been the
establishment of regular mediated (by Human Resources representatives)
meetings between co-workers in the same situation, so that they could share
issues, get answers to their questions periodically and nevertheless feel a
sense of belongingness to a certain social group.
Step 2: Moving
Schein notes that unfreezing does not automatically command or
forecast the direction, but develops the motivation to learn (1996, p.62). This
also sustains Lewins belief that attempts to foresee or recognise a particular
outcome from Planned change is especially difficult due to the complexity of
the forces involved. Ideally all forces at hand should be taken into account
while pinpointing and assessing all available options on a trial and error basis
(Lewin, 1947a). This is actually in relation to the learning approach of the
Action Research model that merged theory generating with the changing of
the social system as the researcher is either acting upon or in the social
system. The action itself is a method of both changing the system and leading

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to critical understanding about it (Lewin, 1946). This repetitive approach of
research, acting and further research allows groups and individuals to
proceed from a less satisfactory to a more adequate set of behaviours
(Burnes, 2004, p.986).
In other words, in this organisations role change situation the moving
stage should have been done by assessing elements of the workplace which
the potential guards could encounter, performing the actual reassignment
while continuing to evaluate the working conditions in terms of levels of stress,
behavioural change, as well as social aspects. Though this method seems
valid as a general means of transition, one issue and potential flaw of Lewins
change model could be that employees may act differently during observation
as a result of the Hawthorne effect (Mayo, 1933).
Step 3: Refreezing
This final step aims at stabilising the group at the current quasistationary equilibrium for as to make certain that new behaviours are
somehow safe from decline (Lewin, 1947a). The main issue about refreezing
is that the new behaviour needs to be, at some stage, compatible with the
existing behaviour, personality and environment of the person involved in the
change, or it will simply head to a new level of disconfirmation (Schein, 1996).
Lewin assumed successful change came about as a group activity, as group
norms and customs need to be modified or else changes to individual
behaviour will not be preserved. So, in organisations, refreezing usually also
needs on-going changes in organisational culture, norms, policies and
practices for it to be efficient (Cummings & Huse, 1989).

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This way, in this scenario, tip-lorry drivers environment should have
been altered in order for efficient change to be sustained. Also, they had to be
dealt with as groups rather than as individuals, in a way linked to the
Unfreezing step when meetings between co-workers in the same situation had
to be established. A problem with this is that refreezing is a bold term for this
case in particular whereas a more sensible way of calling it should be
provisional frost as this had not been aimed thought as a long-term
adjustment. Changing of norms and culture even at a small group level could
not be congruent with the organisational needs as the purpose was not to
permanently change tip-lorry drivers ideals and habits, but as to keep them in
a standby when the need for their initial qualifications comes back around.

Discussion
Kanter, Stein & Jick (1992, p.10) state that Lewins model is rather
simple. Its assumption of only three steps: unfreezing, changing and
refreezing involves the old-fashioned linear and static idea that the
organisation is like an ice cube which is so ridiculously inappropriate thus its
hard to understand why it has not only survived but even flourished in time.
Organisations are never frozen, less likely refrozen, but are fluid structures
with numerous personalities, while also if stages do exist, they overlap and
mix with one another in notable ways (Kanter et al., 1992, p.10).
Lewins model applied in this case study does actually show a valid
point of view regarding change. Firstly the Unfreezing stage seems quite
adequate for a smooth transition, with the denial of the validity of the existing
condition, the instatement of guilt or survival anxiety and also the creation of

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psychological security (Schein, 1996) being steps that had been easily
explained and detailed. However, in the second phase the Moving step, a
potential issue is that of the Hawthorne effect (Mayo, 1933) which might occur
if the employees need to be periodically assessed. A possible way of dealing
with this issue, though complicated, could be an ethnographic research
method where the researcher could blend in (under the disguise of a tip-lorry
driver) in the guards environment and analyse the qualitative data in this way.
This is a satisfactory way of dealing with the issue, but in some cases, and
this one especially, is too lengthy and complex to justify the outcome the
psychological well-being and reduced turnover of a few tip-lorry drivers.
Another problem rises when the refreezing step is applied. In this case the
change did not have to be permanent, but temporary, so changing of norms
and culture even at this group level would have taken the change too far. The
drivers would not be drivers anymore but mere construction site guards
pleased with themselves. At this point the organisation may have, though not
physically, practically again lost its drivers in the change process. A partial
solution for this issue is not easy to find unless actually ignoring this step
entirely and thus applying a Lewin 2-step model of change. This way being
dependant on the timeframe in which the change needs to be stabilised, with
a smaller timeframe leading to better results, but this needs to be verified in
future researches.

2136 WORDS

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STUDENT ID: 14068621