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INTERVIEW QUESTION:

Explain Kurt Lewin’s Model of Organizational Change

Posted by Chris Adams

Article Rating // 45134 Views // 0 Additional Answers & Comments

Categories: Business Analysis, Leadership & Management, General, Project Management, Enterprise Analysis (BABOK KA)

ANSWER

 If there is one thing that you can be certain of in business today it’s change.  Kurt Lewin, a physicist and social scientist, defined a model for organizational change as far back as 1947.  This model is still taught today in many business schools as part of the change management discipline.

Lewin used an analogy of changing the shape of a block of ice to convey his theory.  If you want to change the shape of a block of ice you must first melt it or break down its existing structure.  Once it’s unfrozen, it becomes liquid and can be changed by guiding it in any direction you desire.  Using a mold, you can cause it to take on a different shape from its original state.  Finally, you freeze the liquid within the mold to crystallize it into its new shape.  This is how Kurt Lewin explained his influential three-stage model of organizational change.  Here are some key points to consider when thinking about three stages of change (Unfreeze, Change, Freeze).

Unfreeze

Before you can begin changing an organization in any meaningful way you need to overcome the inertia of the existing way of doing things.  This starts by challenging many of the beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors of people within the organization.  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 others.” You are breaking down the status quo.  During the unfreezing process everyone feels that things are becoming off balance.  This feeling becomes a strong motivator for people to seek out a new equilibrium.  During this stage, you need to sell the benefits of the change. The more people that recognize that the change needs to occurs the more likely it will be successful.
  • Determine what needs to change
  • Sell the benefits of the change to everyone involved (this includes getting support from upper management)
  • Specifically address any doubts or concerns
 
Change

Once the organization has gone through the unfreeze stage, effective change can begin within the organization.  People begin to look for new ways to do things and support the new direction.   Time and frequent communication are two key factors for the change to occur.  People need to understand the changes as they occur and feel that they are part of the change. Some take a long time to recognize the real benefits.  This can lead to fear and rumors that need to be handled quickly. 
  • Involve people in the process and empower them
  • Communicate frequently
  • Dispel rumors quickly
 
Freeze

Once the changes have taken effect, the next stage is to freeze or crystallize the changes within the organization.  Putting the proper processes and the organizational hierarchy in place to manage them is important to ensure this happens.  Since change is always occurring, some might ask why bother to freeze things.  Why not stay in a constant state of change?  Constant change, without freezing things in place at least momentarily, leaves people without a clear sense of direction.  It becomes more and more difficult as time goes on to convince people that something needs changing if you don’t give the most recent changes time to fully crystallize.  Also, taking the time to celebrate the successful completion of changes within the organization provide everyone with a feeling of reward and gives them closure.
  • Develop processes to anchor the changes into the culture
  • Provide clear communications, support and training
  • Celebrate the successful completion of changes
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Chris Adams
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