Leveraging Lewin’s Three-Stage Model for Effective Organisational Change

Developed in the 1940s by psychologist Kurt Lewin, the Three-Stage Change Model remains one of the most popular and practical models for understanding organisational change. The three stages provide a simple but powerful framework for leaders to follow when implementing changes.

Unfreeze Stage:

The first stage is Unfreeze. This stage is about preparing people and the organisation for change. Leaders need to make a compelling case for why change is needed by highlighting the potential benefits and threats if no action is taken. This builds urgency and the motivation to support the change. Unfreezing also involves loosening existing mindsets and dismantling processes or structures that could hinder the change.

Here is a check list of actions leaders can take during the Unfreeze stage:

  1. Create a sense of urgency – Highlight potential crises or lost opportunities if change does not happen
  2. Identify expected benefits – Link the change to improvements in key metrics like quality, costs, or customer satisfaction
  3. Involve others in shaping the change – Get input to build support and refine approach
  4. Communicate the vision – Explain the rationale and objectives for the change in a compelling way
  5. Challenge the status quo – Question current assumptions, processes and traditions
  6. Remove obstacles – Eliminate barriers that could hinder the change effort
  7. Provide training – Offer instruction and guidance to build capabilities needed for change
  8. Listen to concerns – Acknowledge fears and anxiety people may have about change
  9. Align systems and structures – Ensure organisational elements like rewards and culture promote the change
  10. Model the desired mindset and behaviours – Demonstrate the attitudes and actions you want others to adopt

The Unfreeze stage is critical for preparing people to accept, embrace and adopt the upcoming change. Executing the steps in this check list helps create the motivation and conditions for successful change.

Change Stage: 

The second stage is Change (also called Transition). This involves making the actual changes in operations, systems, processes, culture, strategy. People need training, resources and support during this destabilising time. Leadership communication is vital to provide reassurance and direction. This stage continues until the desired changes are fully implemented.

Here is a check list of actions leaders can take during the Change (Transition) stage:

  1. Implement changes in phases – Introduce changes in stages rather than all at once
  2. Provide resources and support – Allocate budget, equipment, staff to enable changes
  3. Offer training – Conduct training and coaching to develop new skills and behaviours 
  4. Communicate often – Give regular updates on progress and next steps
  5. Involve people in the process – Encourage participation in shaping how changes roll out
  6. Monitor progress and problems – Track implementation and address any issues or resistance 
  7. Refine approach as needed – Make adjustments based on feedback and learnings
  8. Celebrate wins – Recognise successful milestones and improvements 
  9. Manage transition conflicts – Resolve disagreements and power struggles calmly 
  10. Model new behaviours consistently – Reinforce changes through your own actions and words
  11. Maintain urgency – Reiterate the rationale and benefits of the change
  12. Provide reinforcements – Use rewards, incentives and recognition to motivate adoption

The Change stage requires careful management to ensure smooth transition. Following this check list helps sustain momentum and minimise disruption during the vital implementation phase.

Refreeze Stage:

The third stage is Refreeze. This is about establishing stability once changes are made. The changes are formalised into new policies, procedures and organisational norms. People start to internalise and adopt the changes as the new status quo. Leadership needs to reinforce and reward the new behaviours to solidify the changes.

Here is a check list of actions leaders can take during the Refreeze stage:

  1. Solidify new processes – Document and standardise new procedures and systems
  2. Update policies and rules – Align policies with the changes and new ways of operating
  3. Provide ongoing support – Continue training and resources as needed to reinforce changes
  4. Reinforce new behaviours – Recognise and reward people demonstrating the new behaviours
  5. Monitor adoption – Ensure changes are fully adopted and not sliding back to old ways
  6. Incorporate into culture – Integrate successful changes into organisational values and norms 
  7. Align leaders and staff – Get buy-in from all levels in maintaining changes
  8. Manage resistance – Address any lingering reluctance to adopt changes
  9. Share success stories – Publicise examples of how changes are improving outcomes
  10. Capture lessons learned – Analyse what worked well and what could be improved for future change efforts
  11. Celebrate the change – Acknowledge the effort involved and recognise contributions of those involved
  12. Communicate next steps – Set sights on the future and link change to coming initiatives

The Refreeze stage is about establishing permanence and preventing regression back to old status quo. Using these actions helps ensure changes stick and become the new business as usual.

Some key benefits of Lewin’s model include:

– Simple and easy to understand

– Provides logical sequence of change steps

– Emphasises thorough preparation for change 

– Accounts for Refreeze stage which is often overlooked

Lewin’s model has withstood the test of time due to its practical approach. Leaders can leverage this model when introducing any type of organisational change, big or small. Following these fundamental stages increases the likelihood of successful, sustainable change.

Lewin’s Three-Stage Change Model offers an effective blueprint for navigating organisational change. By unfreezing the status quo, implementing changes, and refreezing new processes, leaders can increase adoption. This classic change model continues providing value to organisations undergoing transformation.