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Lewin’s model of change

In the 1940s, Lewin proposed a Change Management Model that was perhaps, the first and most
famous early analysis of how organizations adapt and deal with change.

His model proposed three main stages to move an organization from its current state to a desired
future state: “Unfreeze – Change – Refreeze”

1. Unfreeze – Creating a sense a change is needed

2. Change – Moving towards a new and desired behavior
3. Refreeze – Setting this behavior as the new normal

Lewin’s theory of change used blocks of ice as a metaphor.

Let’s say you have ‘cube’ of ice but you’d like a ‘cone’ of ice. To transform the cube shape you

1. “unfreeze” or melt the ice

2. “change” the mould to a cone shape and
3. “refreeze” the water into the new, desired shape

It’s a simple three-stage process that allows you to easily diagnose which stage you are in.

As Lewin put it, “Motivation for change must be generated before change can occur. One must
be helped to re-examine many cherished assumptions about oneself and one’s relations to

Lewin identified several golden rules (1951) on how change is to be implemented:

1. Change should only be implemented for good reason.

2. Change should always be gradual.
3. All change should be planned and not sporadic or sudden.

4. All individuals who may be affected by the change should be involved in planning for the

Now, we’ll look at each of the three stages in more depth and see how these ‘golden rules’ apply.

Stage 1: Unfreeze

The ‘Unfreeze’ stage is about creating the motivation to change.

Motivation is intrinsic to an individual.

I cannot motivate you. You cannot motivate me. But I can create the conditions, messages, and
environment that may influence you to want to change.

In this stage, Lewin asks us to examine the “way things are done around here” (assumptions) and
challenge the status quo.

Force-field analysis – Lewin (1951)

Lewin suggested a methodology for analyzing change he called the ‘force field analysis’.
Essentially, this involved the following:

 analyze the restraining or driving forces that will affect the transition to the future state –
restraining forces include the reactions from those who see change as ‘unnecessary’ or
constituting a ‘threat’.

 assess driving or restraining forces – which ones are critical?
 take steps to increase the critical driving forces + decrease the critical restraining forces.

Stage 2: Change

The ‘Change’ stage has a focus on the solution – new ways of working. It begins with new
approaches to problems. With new approaches comes new learning and it takes place here:

 Goals are established.

 Smaller, acceptable changes that reinforce and support change are instituted.
 Management structures are developed.
 Open, two-way communication (dialogue) is maintained.

This stage requires active stakeholder participation (particularly, with those impacted by the

Stage 3: Refreeze

The ‘Refreeze’ stage calls for “institutionalizing” these new ways of acting and working.

New attitudes, values, and behaviors are established as the new status quo. Staff will begin to
feel confident and comfortable in this new world.

Why are these steps so important?

Let’s look at this scenario to explain why these three steps are so important.

Skip-a-step scenario

Let’s imagine you skip the ‘unfreezing’ phase and go straight to the ‘change’ phase.

What will happen?

The change will meet resistance.


Prevailing forces such as old values begin to increase to counter the change. This leads to
misunderstandings and a lack of trust (use the Force Field Analysis model to visualize this

When you are making the actual change, important knowledge and/or internal acceptance may be
lacking and suggestions ill-founded if you don’t:

 base your decisions on a rigorous and systematic process (hunches yielding a ”good
enough” outcome just won’t cut the mustard); and
 involve all who are concerned by the change.

Applying Lewin’s 3-Step Change Management Model

Step 1 – Unfreeze

 what is to change
 Get clear and specific  what is the goal
on …
 what desired behaviors are required in the future state
 Get clear on …  why the change is necessary and why now
 Conduct an  determine the level of change maturity of the affected
organizational stakeholders. This helps you to understand the level of
readiness assessment to change effort and leadership support required to
… successfully carry out the change.

Step 2 – Change

 Communication is like glue – you need enough to
hold things together but too much gums up the
 Communicate, communicate,
whole works!
communicate (but don’t be
 Begin to communicate the ‘what’ and ‘why’ of the
change to affected stakeholders.
 Collaborate for a change …  People don’t resist what they create – involve as
many stakeholders and impacted parties as you can

 For best results, ask for their input in a structured

 Rigorous implementation planning averts
resistance – doing something new is ambiguous
 Manage resistance …
enough, so make sure you keep the journey as clear
and organized as possible
 Leadership makes THE difference to successful
 Align leadership and involve
every layer …
 By getting leaders aligned and demonstrating the
desired behaviors, you can affect real change

Step 3 – Refreeze

 formal reward systems encourage the new behaviors
 change reward systems
 build success experiences
 “Refreeze” the
organizational culture  reward desired behavior

 develop structures to institutionalize the change

 force people to let go – we need to let go to reach out; we

need to create the space so the new change can grow and
become comfortable
 Use these 3 techniques to encourage people to move with
the momentum of change:
o THE CUT OFF: At some stage, the old system
needs to be switched off.
o THE MOVE FORWARD: No longer accept work
the old way.

oTHE INCENTIVE: Provide rewards for the

desired behavior and celebrate early adopters.
 Walk the talk …  Have leaders model the change you want to see