3 Stages of Change: Kurt Lewin’s Change Model

lewiin's 3 stages of change feature image

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.


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.

How to Use Lewin’s Force Field Analysis to Achieve Change

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Kurt Lewin uses an analogy of a force field to describe how organizations maintain stability and how they change. You should use Lewin’s force field analysis to identify ways to achieve and sustain change in your organization. lewin's force field analysis feature image

Lewin’s Force Field Analogy

Lewin uses an analogy of a force field to describe why organizations are sometimes stable, and why they sometimes change. He identified that there are always two sets of forces at work. One set drives change while the other restrains change. When the forces are equal, then organizations maintain stability.
kurt lewin's force field analysis in times of stability
However, when the driving forces are stronger than the restraining forces, change occurs. force field analysis in times of change There are two ways to achieve change. You can:
  • Increase the forces driving change
  • Decrease the forces restraining change
However, according to Lewin, some driving forces, such as pressure to change, increase tension and resistance. Therefore, you need to increase driving forces carefully, and you should focus on lowering restraining forces.

Using Lewin’s Force Field Analysis

Lewin’s force field analysis involves identifying the:
  • Driving forces behind your idea for change
  • Restraining forces that may block the success of your idea
The exact nature of these forces will depend on your situation. However, you should focus on forces that shape people’s behavior. These include:
  • People’s knowledge, skills, attitudes, beliefs, values, feelings, workloads and their competing interests
  • Structural issues, such as role clarity, the reporting relationships, and the degree of autonomy that people have
  • Established systems for how different things get done in your organization
Conducting Lewin’s force field analysis involves:
  • Brainstorming a list of driving and restraining forces that could be in play
  • Ranking the strength of each force (e.g. 1 being weak and 5 being strong)
  • Highlighting those forces that have a high impact (e.g. ranking 4-5)
  • Brainstorm ideas for increasing the strength of potentially strong driving forces
  • Brainstorm ideas for eliminating or decreasing strong restraining forces
  • Eliminating any ideas that are impractical in your situation
  • Grouping similar ideas together
  • Deciding which ideas represent the best of the rest

After the Force Field Analysis

After doing the above, you need to decide whether your idea for change is worth the time, money and effort that will be required. Don’t be afraid to make the call that your idea for change is not feasible. However, if you do decide to press on, you need to involve others in conducting the above steps. You could start with your leadership team, then 1 or 2 representative staff, and then your staff. Involving others in the process is itself a way to reduce individual resistance to the change, plus people will add valuable input from their on the ground perspective.

Note – the Force Field Analysis Is Part of a Process

It is also important to note that you should use Lewin’s force field analysis as part of a broader process for change. Treating change as a process is one of the key principles of change management. According to Lewin, such a process starts with a dissatisfaction of the existing and a broad agreement about a more desirable future. You should do this before involving staff in a force field analysis. See the 3 Stages of Change: Kurt Lewin’s Change Model for further details.

Summing Up Lewin’s Force Field Analysis

Change is a process. You conduct a force field analysis as part of that process. The analysis involves identifying forces that are driving or that could drive change, as well as forces that may restrain change. You then come with strategies that strengthen the forces driving change. At the same time, you come up with strategies that eliminate or reduce the strength of forces that restrain change.

When you are thinking about initiating change, it is worth doing your own force field analysis. If you then decide that your idea for change is feasible, you should involve others in doing a force field analysis.


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