3 Stages of Change: Kurt Lewin’s Change Model

Successfully leading change starts with an understanding that change is a process, not an event. This is one of the key change management principles. You must lead your staff through the stages of change. Thankfully, the process of change is not difficult to understand.

lewiin's 3 stages of change feature image

Kurt Lewin developed a model that has just 3 stages of change – unfreezing, moving and refreezing. Lewin’s change model is great because it is easy to understand, it is the basis of many other models, and it is supported by research.

Kurt Lewin’s Change Model In a Nutshell

Kurt Lewin’s change model has 3 steps.

stages of change diagram

The first stage involves helping people to see why a change is needed. The second stage involves taking action, and the third stage involves refreezing changed ways of working as the new norm.

Unfreezing: The 1st of 3 Stages of Change

lewin's stages of change - stage 1 - unfreezingThe first stage of Lewin’s change model is unfreezing. Before real change can happen, people need to accept that change is a good idea. Put another way; they need to be motivated to change.  The first stage of change is all about making this happen.

You start this step by challenging and destabilizing the status quo. Or, in other words, you highlight how the existing ways of doing things are not working as well as they could be.

Creating and discussing data is one way to do this. The exact nature of the data that you need to use will vary according to your situation. However, it would typically include both performance data and opinions.

After exploring relevant data, people get a sense of what a better future may look like. You need to capture this as the basis for a compelling vision that you can unite your staff behind. You can also form some broad goals for change.

At this stage of the change process, you are not trying to nail down detailed solutions for how to make things better. Instead, you need to help people see that some form of change is a good idea, and to have a broad picture of a better future.

Moving: The 2st of 3 Stages of Change

lewin's change model - stage 2 = movingThe second stage of Lewin’s change model is moving. Once people accept that change is necessary and there is agreement about what this may look like, it is time to start planning and making change happen.

First, you conduct a force-field analysis. This enables you to identify forces that can drive your change initiative as well as forces that may restrain your efforts. Furthermore, it involves coming up with strategies that:

  • Strengthen driving forces
  • Weaken restraining forces

You then implement the strategies that you have devised. The right strategies for you will depend upon your situations and the force field analysis you undertook.

However, common strategies for strengthening driving forces include:

  • Communicating a compelling vision that describes a desirable future state
  • Setting more specific goals to be achieved
  • Scheduling milestones and regular reviews

Common strategies for weakening restraining forces include:

  • Involving staff in decisions about change
  • Over-communicating about the change
  • Providing training and development
  • Giving people the freedom to experiment, evaluate and refine

Read more about How to Use Lewin’s Force Field Analysis to Achieve Change.

Refreezing: The 2nd of 3 Stages of Change

lewin's change model - stage 3 - refreezingThe third stage in Lewin’s change model is refreezing. Once people have adjusted to new ways of working and ironed out any issues that emerged, it is time for you to cement changes as the new norm.

If you don’t pay attention to refreezing, people soon revert to old ways of working.

Refreezing involves tightening control that you loosened in the moving stage and entrenching a new culture.

Some of the common ways leaders refreeze their organization are through:

  • Induction processes that introduce new staff to the new way things are done
  • Token reward systems that recognise and reinforce desired behavior
  • Monitoring behaviour and performance at both group and individual levels
  • Initiating corrective action based on your monitoring
  • Alignment of other supporting systems and structures

To Sum Up

Change is a process. Lewin’s change model describes 3 stages of the change process. It is simple, yet potent, and you can apply it to a wide range of contexts. provide a simple, yet potent description of that process. It forms the basis of many other descriptions of the change process, and it is a model supported by research.

References

Elrod, P. D., & Tippett, D. D. (2002). The Death Valley of Change. Journal of Organizational Change, 15, 273-291.

Ford, M. W., & Greer, B. M. (2006). Profiling Change: An Empirical Study of Change Process Patterns. The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 42(4), 420-446.

Lewin, K. (1947). Frontiers in Group Dynamics: Concepts, Method and Reality in Social Sciences, Social Equilibria and Social Change. Human Relations, 1, 5-42.

Lewin, K. (1951). Field Theory in Social Sciences. New York, NY: Harper & Row.

Zand, D. E., & Sorenson, R. E. (1975). Theory of Change and the Effective Use of Management Science. Administrative Science Quarterly, 20, 532-545.

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