Dr Kurt Lewin was among the early social scientists and theorists of change management. He presented his three stage model of change management in 1947, which was very popular among the academia and practitioners of change management.

His work laid the foundation of change management as a specialized area of study. His model was widely discussed, debated and later challenged by other social scientists. But this three-stage model- Unfreeze- Change- Freeze which is also called Changing As Three Steps (CATS) holds significance even today. 

So let’s look at each of three stages and how it explains the process of change management.

Unfreezing

Do we put frozen meat straight to cooker? No! Why? because it is not yet ready. You are always advised to first unfreeze meat and then start cooking. The same holds true for any change to happen at organization level.

The first stage, according to Lewin, is called unfreezing and it is about how much you are ready for change. How much employees understand that change is necessary and status quo is no longer working for them. This stage is also about creating motivation among employees to accept and implement change.

In this stage, role of change leaders is extremely important. They need to challenge the old mind-set of employees, and give them a picture of change or share the vision of change. For all this to happen, communication is the key. The more coherent, frequent and powerful communication, the more effective and smooth unfreezing stage will be.

Change

When something is unfrozen then it moves toward a new process. Like after accepting the new realities and vision, the next stage is when actual change happens. It is a stage of transition. It is a real journey of change. It involves moving toward the real goal by implementing change.

It is not that easy transition. Why? People hate uncertainties, they are not comfortable in undertaking new roles and responsibilities. Therefore, it is extremely important to make proper planning and do effective communication and appreciate everyone involved in the transition.

In this process everyone involved in it should be prepared to implement change. Change leaders should be telling employees very often that what are reason and vision of change. Benefits of change should also be reminded to employees so that to keep their motivation intact.

Freezing  

Freezing symbolizes stability, consolidation and sustainability. This stage is all about sustaining the change within organization. That is why Lewin named this stage ‘freezing” but some other theorists refer it to as refreezing. After reaching the required destination of change the next logically step is how to sustain that change. So, it is about freezing the achieved status of change in organization. 

At this stage, the change has become culture and new norm of organization. Employees has settled in their new roles and responsibilities and adopted completely to the change. There might be new processes, systems, structures, resources etc. So freezing entails all of these within organization so that the lasting benefits of change are achieved over period of certain time.

Lewin argues that employees should be given rewards, be acknowledged and recognized for all their work done in achieving the real change. And this reward and recognition system also works to sustain and strengthen the change.

Why to Choose Lewin’s Change Model

Easy to Understand and Implement

Lewin’s change model is easy to understand for both change leaders and employees. When leaders and management share their vision and reason for change to employees, questions pop up in the minds of employees about how this change will happen, what will be the process, what will be the future etc. By using Lewin’s change model, leaders can easily explain to them that what will be three stages of change in their organization; and what will be roles and responsibilities of leaders and employees.

Smooth Transition and Sustaining Change

The three stage change model also allows smooth transition from one stage to another. Using this model, change leaders have more clarity about the process of change and progress being made towards the real goal. Transition from one stage to another also gives time to change leaders to reflect on the success and challenges and they can take corrective actions to ensure smooth transition and also sustain change which is the key idea of the last step of this model.

Gradual Change

Since Lewin’s change model emphasize on sequential change. It is not like that parallel things are happening. It starts from step one and then gradually to next and then the final. It more gradual change instead of haphazard change. These steps allow change leaders enough time to implement the change in its original sense. And by this way organizations actually make real transition or transformation.

Criticism on Lewin’s Model of Change Management

Although Lewin’s model of Change Management was very popular but critics also challenged it for some valid reasons. Following are the main points of criticism:

  • Lewin’s model is over simplistic. Nowadays, organizations and business are very complex and this three-stage model does not fully applicable in the complex nature of business world of today.
  • This model assumes that change happens in three sequential stages and one stage comes after another. It is not the reality of present-day organizational culture. Critics believes that these stages work in parallel.
  • Lewin’s model only caters to incremental and transitional change. It does not address the transformational change.
  • This model rests on top-bottom approach to change management and does not take into account the importance of bottom-up approach in the process of change.
  • This model pays little attention to employees and their conflicts and power dynamics within an organization.
  • It is silent about the resistance, obstacles and problems which are often come on the way to implement the change.

Take Home Points

  • Lewin outlines three stage model of change model to explain the stages of change and how it is implemented and managed in organizations.
  • First stage is unfreezing which basically revolves around getting people ready to start the journey of change.
  • Second stage is change which talks about transition and what does it entail to experience the process of transition. 
  • Third and the last stage is freezing which is all about the stability and how change is institutionalized in the culture of an organization.
  • Critics say that Lewin model of change is over simplistic. Change is not an easy process and present day business it is chaotic and there are multi factors which affect the change.

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