Change is the foundation for organizational development. Yet, most employees prefer the status quo over transformational change. Change management models are designed to help you navigate through transitional phases and guide your team members towards adapting to new change – allowing businesses to maximize ROI.
One popular change model was proposed by change leader Kurt Lewin, which balances the driving and restraining forces to manage organizational changes such as digital transformation, software implementation, and business process improvements.
Kurt Lewin’s Force Field Theory states that restraining forces influence the behavior of both the group and individuals, ultimately deciding the fate of change. The driving forces motivate & steer employees towards the new state. The restraining forces highlight potential resistance to change, acting as the prime barriers to change initiatives.
Lewin suggests that it is crucial to balance these forces through effective change communication and employee involvement, by providing employee training to bridge the skill gap. Change agents must implement stress management techniques, ensure compliance is met, and use convincing change reasoning.
To substantiate his Force Field Theory, Lewin suggested a straightforward 3-step change model which aids employees’ ability to adapt to change.
Here are the three stages in Lewin’s change model:
The first stage in Lewin’s model deals with perception management and aims to prepare the affected stakeholders for the upcoming organizational change. Change leaders must look at ways to improve the company’s preparedness for change and create a sense of urgency similar to Kotter’s change model.
During this stage, effective change communication plays a vital role in getting the desired team member buy-in and support of the people in the change management.
The following activities under the ‘unfreeze’ stage will help you embrace change better:
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Once the status quo is disrupted, this stage deals with the implementation of change. In this stage, you must consider an agile and iterative approach that incorporates employee feedback to smoothen the transition.
You can further look at the following actionable items to keep uncertainty at bay:
Employees move away from the transition phase towards stabilization or acceptance in the final’ refreezing’ stage.
However, if change leaders fail to strengthen the change by reinforcing it into org culture, employees might revert to previous behaviors.
The following activities will help you support the change:
There are three major ways that Lewin’s 3-stage change model can be applied for organizational change, including:
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To understand Lewin’s change theory, let’s look at the case study of Nissan and how it supported and drove its change initiative by applying the theories of Lewin’s 3-stage change model.
The Japanese automaker Nissan Motor Company was on the verge of bankruptcy due to its huge debt and constantly declining market share. However, Nissan entered into a strategic alliance with Renault under the change agent Carlos Ghosn where Nissan aimed to get rid of its financial debt. At the same time, Renault wanted to expand its market share.
Carlos Ghosn was faced with the challenge of implementing a transformational change and turning around the operations of Nissan to make it profitable. He formed multiple cross-functional teams to reduce employee pushback and recommend a robust action plan in different functions. He developed a strong change management strategy to tackle various business challenges and increased employee involvement in the change journey through effective communication and positive reinforcement.
For refreezing the behavioral change of the team members, he introduced performance-based pay, empowered employees to try non-conventional methods, and implemented an open feedback system for guiding and facilitating the employees in enhancing workplace adaptability.
Lewin’s change model is a simple and easy-to-understand framework to humanize the change management process. These three distinct stages of change (unfreeze, change, and refreeze) allow you to plan & implement the required change. A well-thought combination of change models and change management tools can go a long way in steering your employees through the change.
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