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Change management is the process by which an organization gets to its future state, its vision.
While traditional planning processes delineate the steps on the journey, change management
attempts to facilitate that journey. Therefore, creating change starts with creating a vision for
change and then empowering individuals to act as change agents to attain that vision. The
empowered change management agent’s need plans that provide total systems approach, are
realistic, and are future oriented. Change management encompasses the effective strategies and
programs to enable those change agents to achieve the new vision. For the work, we will be
choosing Kurt Lewin’s 3-step model for managing the change.

The power of Lewin's theorizing lay not in a formal propositional kind of theory but in his ability
to build "models" of processes that drew attention to the right kinds of variables that needed to be
conceptualized and observed. The most powerful of these was his model of the change process in
human systems. This model to be fundamentally necessary in trying to explain various
phenomena I had observed, and it lent itself very well to refinement and elaboration. Social
scientist Kurt Lewin, combining the theories of sociology and psychology, developed a three-
stage model for large-scale system change. Lewin recognized the role of habit in our thoughts
and actions. "Unfreezing" involves finding a method of making it possible for people to let go of
an old pattern that was counterproductive in some way. "Moving to a new level" involves a
process of change--in thoughts, feelings, behavior, or all three, that is in some way more
liberating or more productive. "Refreezing" is establishing the change as a new habit, so that it
now becomes the "standard operating procedure." Without some process of refreezing, it is easy
to backslide into the old ways. Lewin's basic change model of unfreezing, changing, and
refreezing to be a theoretical foundation upon which change theory could be built solidly. The
key, of course, was to see that human change, whether at the individual or group level, was a
profound psychological dynamic process that involved painful unlearning without loss of ego
identity and difficult relearning as one cognitively attempted to restructure one's thoughts,
perceptions, feelings, and attitudes. The case study shows that this theory indeed can be
integrated in an organizational change modeling approach in a useful manner.

Key significance of Lewin’s 3-Step Model

This is often cited as Lewin’s key contribution to organizational change. However, it needs to be
recognized that when he developed his 3-Step model Lewin was not thinking only of
organizational issues. Nor did he intend it to be seen separately from the other three elements
which comprise his planned approach to change (i.e. Field Theory, Group Dynamics and Action
Research). Rather Lewin saw the four concepts as forming an integrated approach to analyzing,
understanding and bringing about change at the group, organizational and societal levels.
A successful change project, Lewin (1947a) argued, involved three steps:

Unfreezing: Unfreezing is the fundamental step in the theory. It is about helping stakeholders,
employees, administrators, boards and government) understand that change is required. It is
about helping the stakeholders “let go” or not do things how they have always done. The effects
of the driving and restraining forces come into play at this step. If the restraining force is greater
than or equal to the driving force, there will be no change. The driving force must outweigh the
restraining force in order for enough motivation to take place; merely introducing a driving force
is not enough to cause a shift in the equilibrium of the perceived change (Schein, 1995). The
need to change can be caused by a fear of failing to meet goals or standard (Schein, 1995). For
example an individual may feel he/she will have a heart attack if he/she does not chage his diet.
When this stage is implemented successfully most members in each stakeholder group evaluate
ways in that they are counterproductive to what should be done and they stop taking those
actions. However the fear of change is one of the greatest restraining forces met by an individual
facing the change process. To overcome this fear and attempt to change, the individual must
develop a sense of comfort. A balance between the fear of not changing and changing must be
met; both are essential in motivation (Pettigrew, 1992).
Lewin believed that the stability of human behaviour was based on a quasi-stationary
equilibrium supported by a complex field of driving and restraining forces. He argued that the
equilibrium needs to be destabilized (unfrozen) before old behaviour can be discarded (unlearnt)
and new behaviour successfully adopted. Given the type of issues that Lewin was addressing, as
one would expect, he did not believe that change would be easy or that the same approach could
be applied in all situations:

Enlarging on Lewin’s ideas, Schein (1996, p. 27) comments that the key to unfreezing ‘. . . was
to recognize that change, whether at the individual or group level, was a profound psychological
dynamic process’. Schein (1996) identifies three processes necessary to achieve unfreezing:
disconfirmation of the validity of the status quo, the induction of guilt or survival anxiety, and
creating psychological safety. He argued that: ‘. . . unless sufficient psychological safety is
created, the disconfirming information will be denied or in other ways defended against, no
survival anxiety will be felt and consequently, no change will take place’ (Schein, 1996, p. 61).
In other words, those concerned have to feel safe from loss and humiliation before they can
accept the new information and reject old behaviours.

Moving: Moving to a new level or changing means exactly that it is about replacing the old
actions with actions that are consistent with the goal. It is about not doing what one has always
done that was counterproductive and replacing it with concrete new actions. To help maintain the
motivation for change, working in groups or obtaining support is effective. Others help to relieve
pressures, provide an environment where errors can be made and learned from, offer positive
reinforcement, and coaching. The process of change is not only done physically, it requires
mental alterations (Tichey, 1997). Renaming the information or widening out definition helps one
accept new meaning to the habit. Such as accepting healthy living as eating a healthy diet, being
physically active, and having a positive self-esteem, oppose to weighing a specific number.
When changing the definition, one creates new principles to evaluate standards. In evaluating
healthy lifestyles, one would be successful if he or she feels physically, mentally, emotionally,
and socially healthy (World Health Organization, 2003).

These new actions are consistently repeated to help move towards a new goal. When most
stakeholders are trying to change their counterproductive actions to productive actions, this stage
has been achieved. One way to achieve this stage is to try a variety of activities so that something
will appeal to the stakeholders.
As Schein (1996, p. 62) notes, unfreezing is not an end in itself; it ‘. . . creates motivation to
learn but does not necessarily control or predict the direction’. This echoes Lewin’s view that
any attempt to predict or identify a specific outcome from planned change is very difficult

because of the complexity of the forces concerned. Instead, one should seek to take into account
all the forces at work and identify and evaluate, on a trial and error basis, all the available options
(Lewin, 1947a). This is, of course, the learning approach promoted by Action Research. It is this
iterative approach of research, action and more research which enables groups and individuals to
move from a less acceptable to a more acceptable set of behaviours. However, as noted above,
Lewin (1947a) recognized that, without reinforcement, change could be short-lived.

Refreezing: This is the final step in the 3-Step model. When the changes are taking shape and
people have embraced the new ways of working, the organization is ready to refreeze. The
outward signs of the refreeze are a stable organization chart, consistent job descriptions, and so
on. The refreeze stage also needs to help people and the organization internalize or
institutionalize the changes. This means making sure that the changes are used all the time; and
that they are incorporated into everyday business. With a new sense of stability, employees feel
confident and comfortable with the new ways of working. Refreezing or making the new
productive actions habits is refreezing. This stage is accomplished when most stakeholders
habitually take the productive action, without thinking, it becomes the norm. Once these actions
are repeated over a time period, benefits will be seen. The new action must be fitting to
behaviors and characteristics of the individual to remain effective or the old action will reemerge
(Schein, 1995). As in the healthy lifestyle example, the individual begins to eat a very re-
strictive, bland diet which he/she does not enjoy and forces he to do a physical activity he/she
does not enjoy, the new behavior will not last. Soon the person will begin to “cheat” on the diet
and avoid running. In order for refreezing to occur the new activity needs to be normalized. This
will happen if it is fun and easy or if there is a reward.
Refreezing seeks to stabilize the group at a new quasi-stationary equilibrium in order to ensure
that the new behaviours are relatively safe from regression. The main point about refreezing is
that new behaviour must be, to some degree, congruent with the rest of the behaviour,
personality and environment of the learner or it will simply lead to a new round of
disconfirmation (Schein, 1996). This is why Lewin saw successful change as a group activity,
because unless group norms and routines are also transformed, changes to individual behaviour
will not be sustained. In organizational terms, refreezing often requires changes to organizational
culture, norms, policies and practices (Kanter, 1993).

Therefore, Lewin’s model illustrates the effects of forces that either promote or inhibit change.
Specifically, driving forces promote change while restraining forces oppose change. Hence,
change will occur when the combined strength of one force is greater than the combined strength
of the opposing set of forces.

Organizational application of Lewin’s 3-Step Model

Change efforts take time and risk losing momentum if there are no short term goals to meet and
celebrate (Kotter, 1995). Without short term wins, people give up or begin to resist the change.
Lewin suggests that organisations should be proactive in establishing goals and objectives and
rewarding those involved with recognition, promotion or money (Kanter, 1993). Commitments to
produce short term wins also help maintain the sense of urgency focus of the project.

Following awareness for the need to change and having volleyed support for the need to change
leads to the second phase of Lewin's model, moving the people for the desire to participate.
Without achieving buy-in to the change project, there will be no desire to participate, career
advancement, job security and incentives such as compensation will enhance employees desire to
participate (Prosci, 2003). The process cannot stop at ‘desire’; employees must possess
knowledge on how to perform the change and the ability to change. Again, communication is the
key to successfully imparting information on how the change process will occur. Any specialised
training or skills that might be required must be provided prior to implementing the change.
Once thechange is implemented, it is important it stays in place. Reinforcement of the change is
vital to insure that the change is retained (John., 1996).

Organisational development theory typically uses Lewin’s three-step change model which
involves breaking down old tasks, behaviours and attitudes (unfreezing), a transition time
towards new ways of doing things (moving), and the establishment of new routines (refreezing).
Lewin tested the relationship between team working and organisational performance. Having
found partial support for this hypothesis, the ‘‘team working’’ instruments he described could be
used as part of a proposed change process by providing feedback. This could make unseen but

powerful patterns of behaviours among team members visible to others, thus creating an
opportunity to challenge existing practice and discuss how new routines might help improve
performance. Quality improvement driven by organisational development focuses on
empowering and involving practice teams in problem solving. This approach is more construct
than content driven, describing competence using language such as team working, problem
solving, and effective communication (French, 1999).

Limitations &Comparison of Lewin’s Model

Although Lewin’s theory has proved useful in understanding planned change under relatively
stable conditions, with the continuing and dynamic nature of change in today’s business world, it
no longer makes sense to implement a planned process for ‘freezing’ changed behaviours, The
processual framework adopts the view that change is a complex and dynamic process which
should not be solidified or treated as a series of linear events, central to the development of a
processual approach is the need to incorporate analysis is of the politics of managing change
(Cummings, 1997).

Many have is argued that Lewin’s Planned approach is too simplistic and mechanistic for a
world where organizational change is a continuous and open-ended process (Dawson, 1994;
Garvin, 1993; Kanter et al., 1992). Lewin’s work is only relevant to incremental and isolated
change projects and is not able to incorporate radical, transformational change (Dawson, 1994;
Dunphy and Stace, 1992). Lewin’s stands accused of ignoring the role of power and politics in
organizations and the conflictual nature of much of organizational life. Lewin is seen as
advocating a top-down, management-driven approach to change and ignoring situations
requiring bottom-up change (Dawson, 1994). He clearly recognized that the pressure for change
comes from many quarters, not just managers and leaders, and sought to provide an approach
which could accommodate this. Consequently, rather than arguing that Lewin saw behavioural
change as a top-down process, it would be more accurate to say that Lewin recognized that it
could be initiated from the top, bottom or middle but that it could not be successful without the
active, willing and equal participation of all.

This section of the paper will compare the differentiating characteristics of each change theory to
one another. Lewin’s Three-Step Change Theory, Lippitt’s Phases of Change Theory, Prochaska
and DiClemente’s Change Theory, Social Cognitive Theory, and the Theory of Reasoned Action
and Planned Behavior have different methods and assumptions that make each theory unique. It
is important to note that some of the theories do share some commonalities with one another
(Cohen, 1993).

Lewin's model is very rational, goal and plan oriented. It doesn’t take into account personal
factors that can affect change. Conversely, social cognitive theory proposes that behavioral
change is affected by environmental influences, personal factors, and attributes of the behavior
itself. Lewin’s model makes rational sense, but the Social Cognitive Theory because it takes into
account both external and internal environmental conditions.

Lippitt’s Phases of Change is an extension of Lewin’s Three-Step Theory. The focus on Lippitt’s
change theory is on the change agent rather than the change itself. Lewin’s change model
attempts to analyze the forces (driving or restraining) that impacts change. Lippitt, Watson, and
Westley point out that changes are more likely to be stable if they spread to neighboring systems
or to subparts of the system immediately affected. Changes are better rooted. Two examples are:
the individual meets other problems in a similar way, several businesses adopt the same
innovation, or the problem spreads to other departments of the same business. The more
widespread imitation becomes, the more the behavior is regarded as normal (Lippitt, Watson and
Westley 58-59)

Prochaska and DiClemente’s change theory is differentiated from the other theories discussed in
this article. The model is cyclical, not linear. This theory takes relapses or failures to convert to
the desired behavior the first time into account. Individuals that may relapse can revisit the
contemplation stage and make plans for action in the future. The model defines a more general
process of change and, therefore, it tends to be less specific. Prochaska and DiClemente found
that people pass through a series of stages when change occurs. The stages discussed in their
change theory are: precontempation, contemplation, preparation, action, and maintenance
(Bennis, 1999). Progression through the stages is cyclical, not linear.

Self-efficacy is the most important characteristic of both the theory of planned behavior and
social cognitive theory. Self-efficacy is defined as having the confidence in the ability to take
action and persist in the action. Self-efficacy must be present in order for theory of planned
behavior and Social Cognitive Theory to be applied resulting in successful change. Individuals
can learn by direct experiences, human dialogue and interaction, and observation. Social learning
theory, later renamed social cognitive theory, proposes that behavior change is affected by
environmental influences, personal factors, and attributes of the behavior itself (Robbins 46-47).
Social learning theory is an extension of operant conditioning. In other words, behavior is a
result of consequences. Individuals react to how they perceive consequences of their behavior.
Three methods to increase self-efficacy include: provide clear instructions, provide the
opportunity for skill development or training, and model the desired behavior (Bennis,, 2001).
When implementing employee-training programs, there are four processes that should be
exercised that can significantly increase the likelihood of success. They include: attention
processes, retention processes, motor reproduction processes, and reinforcement processes.
Attentional processes take into account that individuals learn from a model when they can relate
to it and pay attention to its details. Individuals are more easily influenced when the model is
neat, attractive, compelling, attention grabbing, and relates to something they care about.

The theory of reasoned action states that “individual performance of a given behavior is
primarily determined by a person's intention to perform that behavior.” There are two major
factors that shape the individual’s attention. First, the individual’s attitude towards the desired
behavior must be positive for change to occur. Second, the influence of the person's social
environment or subjective norm is another factor that shapes the individual’s attention (Beckhard,
1999). This includes the beliefs of their peers and what they believe the individual should do as
well as the individual's motivation to comply with the opinions of their peers.
The theory of planned behavior includes the concept of perceived control over the opportunities,
resources, and skills necessary to perform the desired behavior. The concept of perceived
behavioral control is similar to the concept of self-efficacy. A vital aspect of the behavioral
change process is perceived behavioral control over opportunities, resources, and skills necessary
to perform a behavior (Beckhard, 1997).


Change is inevitable, the market changes, customer demands change and the technology to
support the business change, however change is not always within the control of the organization
(Vroom, 1993). Research shows that it is important to proactively manage and control and seek
out change in order to succeed and gain a competitive edge. Management need to communicate
the need for change and highlight the crisis situation that may develop by avoiding the change.
Effective communication should be used to promote or market the new proposed changes while
at the same time, demonstrate the inadequacies of the older system. Users resist change because
they fear the unknown but effective communication from the start of the change project can help
reduce this fear. It was noted that communication efforts must be both verbal and active (Kotter,
1995). Management must be seen to give active support to the change process for it to gain the
full support of the workforce. In reality the change not only has to be managed but also has to be
marketed. Once the change has been implemented, the change management process must
constantly review the change and reinforce it.

Lewin's three-phase theory for managing change, organization development, and macro change
theories are useful for managers to understand the dynamics of change. It is also important for
managers to know how to overcome resistance to change, including education and
communication, participation and involvement, negotiation and agreement, manipulation and co-
optation, and the use of coercion.


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