Lewin’s 3-Stage Model of Change Theory: Overview

Lewin’s 3-Stage Model of Change Theory: Overview

Change management is the foundation for organizational development. Yet, most employees prefer the status quo over transformational change projects. 

Change management models are designed to help you navigate through transitional phases and guide your team members toward adapting to new digital applications, processes, workflows, and more – allowing businesses to maximize ROI from digital transformation iniatives.

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.

What Is Lewin’s Change Model Theory?

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 toward 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 training to bridge the skill gap. Change agents must implement stress management techniques, ensure compliance is met, and use convincing change reasoning.

The 3 Stages of Change in Lewin’s Model

To substantiate his Force Field Theory, Lewin suggested a straightforward three-step change model which aids employees’ ability to adapt to change

Here are the three stages in Lewin’s change model:

Lewin's change model

Stage 1 - Unfreeze

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:

  • Conduct a business process analysis to understand the current loopholes in the business processes
  • Obtain organizational buy-in
  • Create a strategic change vision and change strategy
  • Communicate in a compelling way about why change has to occur
  • Address employee concerns with honesty and transparency
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Stage 2 - Change

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:

  • Ensure a continuous flow of information to obtain the support of your team members
  • Organize change management workshops and sessions for change management exercises
  • Empower employees to deal with the change proactively
  • Generate easy wins as visible results will motivate your team

Stage 3 - Refreeze

Employees move away from the transition phase towards stabilization or acceptance in the final’ refreezing’ stage. 

However, if change leaders fail to reinforce the change in org culture, employees might revert to previous behaviors. 

The following activities will help you support the change.

  • Identify and reward early adopters and change champions
  • Collect employee feedback regularly
  • Offer on-demand employee training and support
  • Explore digital adoption platforms (DAP) such as Whatfix to be your partner in change with intuitive features such as interactive walkthroughs, customizable popups, and multi-format self-help content.

How Can Lewin’s Change Model Be Implemented?

Here are five significant ways that Lewin’s 3-stage change model can be applied to organizational change, including:

1. Changing the behavior and skills of a workforce

More often than not, every change initiative requires behavior modification and continuous upskilling of employees. Building on an existing skillset allows employees to take over more responsibilities. Therefore, offering ongoing employee training is crucial until the change is second nature.

2. Changing the processes, structures, and systems in an organization

Successful change initiative requires a balanced approach to changing the business processes, structures, and systems. 

For example, McDonald’s incurred a multi-billion dollar loss due to its inability to balance innovation against process efficiencies. It failed to recognize how extensive customization to its food preparation would impact its speed and increase operational costs.

3. Changing the culture of an organization

McKinsey suggests that companies with a strong culture achieve up to three times shareholder returns. To reap the long-term benefits of any change initiative, you must anchor the changes in org culture. 

For example, Hubspot values culture and product equally. It has an extensive 128-page culture code check to ensure that its culture stays strong as ever. Additionally, Hubspot takes an employee-first approach and invests heavily in employee development and upskilling.  

4. Changing the technology used

To ensure the successful adoption of new technology, organizations should create a sense of urgency, evaluate their current technology, prepare for the change, implement the new technology, and establish its long-term viability. 

This approach can minimize failure risks, make the transition smoother, and enable organizations to reap the benefits of the new technology

5. Changing the product or service

When making changes to your product or service, it’s important to act quickly, evaluate the current offering, create a new plan, and integrate it into your company’s culture and processes. By following this change model, your organization can reduce the risk of failure, guarantee a successful implementation, and achieve your desired results.

The Complete Guide to Change Management for Enterprises

5 Challenges of Lewin’s 3-Stage Model in Action

Organizational change is rarely a straightforward process, and implementing Lewin’s change model can present several unique challenges. From resistance to change to breakdowns in communication, organizations must be prepared to navigate various obstacles to manage change effectively.

1. Resistance to change

People are often hesitant to change their habits, routines, and ways of working, which can create resistance and pushback against the change initiative. This resistance can come in different forms like skepticism, fear, anxiety, or outright opposition. 

If resistance to change is not addressed, it can ruin the change initiative and prevent it from being successful. As a result, it’s crucial to identify and understand the reasons for resistance and address them effectively. This may involve providing clear communication and education about the reasons for the change, involving employees in the change process, addressing concerns and fears, and providing support and resources to help employees adapt to the change.

2. Lack of leadership support

Successful change initiatives require strong leadership and guidance. When leaders actively support and promote change, employees are much more likely to prioritize it and understand its importance. Leadership is crucial in setting the tone for change by providing direction, resources, and alignment with the organization’s vision and goals. Without strong leadership, employees may feel uncertain and unsupported, leading to resistance and disengagement. 

To prevent this, leaders must communicate the vision, provide guidance and resources, and involve employees in the change process. By demonstrating their support for the change initiative, leaders can build momentum, create buy-in, and increase the likelihood of successful implementation.

3. Inadequate resources

To make change initiatives successful, organizations need to allocate sufficient time, money, and other resources. When resources are lacking, implementation can be compromised and quality can suffer. Employees may also resist changes if they feel unsupported or overworked, making it difficult to maintain momentum. 

Organizations should identify and allocate the necessary resources appropriately, whether that means securing more funding or staffing, re-prioritizing existing resources, or finding creative solutions to resource constraints. This will increase the likelihood of successful implementation and help achieve the desired outcomes of the change initiative.

4. Poor communication

It’s essential to communicate clearly and consistently for change initiatives to run smoothly. Poor communication can lead to confusion, skepticism, or resistance among employees, making it hard to build engagement and sustain the change over time. 

To avoid this, develop a clear communication plan that outlines the key messages, channels, and timing for communication throughout the change process. The plan should be tailored to the needs and preferences of different stakeholders and delivered in a timely and consistent manner.

5. Inadequate training

In order to successfully implement change initiatives, it is crucial that employees receive proper employee training and end-user support. Failing to do so can result in frustration, mistakes, and resistance among employees, which can ultimately hinder the success of the change effort. 

To prevent this, invest in creating effective training materials, conducting workshops, providing coaching, and offering ongoing feedback and support. Organizations can greatly increase their chances of achieving the desired outcomes by taking these steps to ensure that employees possess the knowledge and skills necessary to support the change initiative.

3 Examples of Lewin’s 3-Stage Model in Action

Example #1: Nissan

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 faced 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 for 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. 

To refreeze 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.

Example #2: McDonald’s

In 2017, McDonald’s implemented Lewin’s change model to overhaul its business strategy and operations. At the time, McDonald’s was struggling to keep up with changing consumer preferences and was losing market share to competitors.

McDonald’s recognized the need for change and began by unfreezing its current business model. The company’s leadership team communicated the need for change to the employees, explaining why the traditional fast-food model was no longer effective and how the new changes would benefit the company and its customers.

McDonald’s then began implementing changes to its business model and operations, such as introducing all-day breakfast, creating more customizable options for its menu, and revamping its in-store technology to improve efficiency and customer experience. These changes were based on customer research and feedback and aimed at meeting customers’ evolving needs.

During this stage, McDonald’s faced some resistance from franchisees and employees who were accustomed to the old ways of doing things. However, the company’s leadership team continued to communicate the benefits of the changes and worked with franchisees and employees to ensure they had the necessary resources and training to adapt to the new model.

McDonald’s fully implemented the changes and were then able to evaluate their success. The necessary adjustments were made, and the new business model was solidified by incorporating it into the company’s policies and culture. Employees who adapted to the changes were recognized and rewarded, and the company constantly continues to monitor and assess the effectiveness of its business model and operations to this day.

Example #3: Nokia

In the mid-2000s, Nokia held a dominant position in the global mobile phone market with its feature phones. The company eventually realized that the market was shifting towards smartphones, and to remain competitive, it needed to adjust its business model and technology.

Nokia started by unfreezing its current business model and technology and communicating the need for change to its employees. The company explained the ineffectiveness of the traditional feature phone model and how the new changes would benefit the company and its customers.

Nokia then introduced its own smartphone platform, Symbian, and collaborated with Microsoft to develop the Windows Phone platform. The company also prioritized enhancing the user experience with features like touchscreens and higher-quality cameras.

Despite some resistance from employees accustomed to the traditional feature phone model, Nokia’s leadership team continued to convey the benefits of the changes and provided employees with the necessary resources and training to adapt to the new technology.

After fully implementing the changes, Nokia conducted a thorough assessment of its success and made the necessary adjustments. The new business model and technology were seamlessly integrated into the company’s policies and culture, and Nokia prioritized acknowledging and rewarding its employees for their efforts in adapting to the changes.

Support your organizational change with Whatfix's digital adoption platform
Implement Lewin's change model to drive successful change in your organization

It’s clear that Lewin’s change model framework has stood the test of time and remains a valuable tool for organizations looking to navigate change. From the unfreezing stage to the refreezing stage, Lewin’s change model provides a comprehensive roadmap for managing the complex process of organizational change.

But the truth is, navigating change is never easy. That’s why it’s important to have the right resources and tools at your disposal. And when it comes to change management, Whatfix is a game-changer. With its intuitive platform and powerful capabilities, Whatfix empowers teams to manage change more effectively and efficiently than ever before.

If you’re looking to implement Lewin’s change model or any other change management framework, consider leveraging the power of Whatfix. With Whatfix, you can take control of change and ensure a smooth transition every time. 

Try Whatfix today and see the difference for yourself.

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