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Overview of Lewin's Three Stage Change Model

written by: Bruce Tyson • edited by: Jean Scheid • updated: 8/25/2010

The Kurt Lewin three stage change model discussed here has become the foundation for modern change theory. By following the unfreeze, change, refreeze routine, people can easily get the sense of what otherwise can be a complicated process. Learn from the Kurt Lewin three stage change model below.

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    Overview: The Kurt Lewin Three Stage Change Model

    Since 1947, Kurt Lewin's model for organizational change management has become one of the most essential theories in changeKurt Lewin management. Although some critics of the theory seem to think that it oversimplifies complicated issues, its simplicity may be the reason why so many managers have found it effective. After all, what good is a theory if it is so complex that few can understand it?

    No matter how complex change issues become, they can be boiled down to one stage of the Kurt Lewin three stage change model, helping managers and team managers to keep complex processes under control. Here you will review Lewin's three stages: unfreeze, change, refreeze.

    Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Cropbot

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    Unfreeze

    Perhaps the most revolutionary concept of the Kurt Lewin three stage change model comes in the realization that people and organizations must undergo preparation for change before change can be effected. The more people recognize that a need for change exists, the more likely they are to "unfreeze" from their current mode of operation and become receptive of new ways to work. This can be an important concept for project managers, executives, or private individuals.

    One methodology frequently utilized in the "Unfreezing" stage is Lewin's "Force Field Analysis" model where positive forces for change and forces that inhibit change are described as they impact the current state that is to be changed. Once the forces at play are understood, those that are positive can be intensified while those that are negative can be mitigated.

    When the "unfreeze" stage is effectively implemented, people, teams, or entire organizations are prepared for a new business model, so change will be readily received.

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    Change

    People who have been unfrozen through driving forces (and the absence of restraining forces) are in a transition that can result in a change of behavior or procedure that can help them become more effective team members. Organizations that have accepted the driving forces behind change can also be directed into more constructive and profitable business practices.

    In spite of the preparation for change, however, the process of change can be daunting as people leave the security and comfort of the way things have always been to take on new roles and responsibilities that may be unfamiliar or uncertain to them. The use of training, coaching, and role models can help make the transition successful. As people adopt new ways, mistakes should be both accepted and expected as either life or business heads in a new direction.

    The transition process also holds enormous potential for individual and collective growth if executives, managers, and other significant parties allow people to find their own new direction. Already motivated to change and generally aware of what changes are necessary, people who are allowed to achieve desired objectives on their own will generally have more commitment to those objectives than if those objectives were forced upon them by an external force. Although the significance of this aspect of change is often overlooked, it can prove to be vital in the final, "refreeze" phase of the change process.

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    Refreeze

    The final stage of the Kurt Lewin three stage change model calls for the new methods, procedures, thought patterns, and behaviors to be cemented into place. New relationships, new procedures, new systems are now in place and must be accepted in order to make their implementation successful.

    For recent changes to become "normal," time is required. Although you may hear people suggest that the patterns of change in modern businesses and lifestyles are transient to the point that many changes can never be solidified, after the manner called for by Lewin. Such criticism may seem valid, but it tends to overlook the words which Lewin spoke, suggesting that the degree and the permanence of implemented change should be defined as one of the objectives of the process.

    The important thing about this stage is to take steps to make sure that people do not regress away from the change that has been newly implemented.

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    Summary

    Although new change theories such as the ADKAR model have taken root in the business world, the Kurt Lewin three stage change model continues to embody change as a practical journey with basic steps that can result in dramatic personal and professional accomplishments.