The Kurt Lewin Model Of Change (2023)

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By Mark Connelly Updated: 12 September 2020

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Kurt Lewin emigrated from Germany to America during the 1930's and isrecognised as the "founder of social psychology" which highlights his interest in the human aspect of change.

Lewin's interest in groups led to research focusing on factors that influence people to change, and the three stages needed to make change successful.

(Video) Lewin's Unfreeze, Change and Refreeze Model - Simplest explanation ever

Unfreeze, Change, Freeze

Lewin's three stage theory of change is commonly referred to as Unfreeze, Change, Freeze(or Refreeze). It is possible to take these stages to quite complicatedlevels but I don't believe this is necessary to be able to work withthe theory. But be aware that the theory has been criticised for beingtoo simplistic.

The world has changed since the theory wasoriginally presented in 1947, but the Kurt Lewin model is stillextremely relevant. Many other modern change models are actuallybased on the 3-stage Lewin model. I'm going to head down a middle road andgive you just enough information to make you dangerous...and perhaps alittle more to whet your appetite!

So, three stages. Unfreezing, Change, Freezing. Let's look at each of these.

Stage 1: Unfreezing

The Unfreezing stage is probably one of the more important stages tounderstand in the world of change we live in today. This stage is aboutgetting ready to change. It involves getting to a point of understandingthat change is necessary, and getting ready to move away from ourcurrent comfort zone.

(Video) Unfreeze, Change, Refreeze | Kurt Lewin's 3-Step Model

This first stage is about preparingourselves, or others, before the change (and ideally creating asituation in which we want the change).

The more we feel thatchange is necessary, the more urgent it is, the more motivated we are tomake the change. Right? Yes, of course! If you understandprocrastination (like I do!) then you'd recognise that the closer thedeadline, the more likely you are to snap into action and actually getthe job started!

With the deadline comes some sort of reward orpunishment linked to the job. If there's no deadline, then the urge tochange is lower than the need to change. There's much lower motivationto make a change. If there's no urgency or motive to change most of us will do....nothing!

Force Field Analysis

Unfreezing and getting motivated for the change is all about weighing up the 'pro's' and 'con's' and deciding if the 'pro's' outnumber the 'con's' before you take any action. This is the basis of what Kurt Lewin called theForce Field Analysis.

Force Field Analysisis a fancy way of saying that there are lots of different factors (forces) for and against making change that we need to be aware of (analysis). If the factorsforchange outweigh the factorsagainstchange we'll make the change. If not, then there's low motivation to change - and if we feel pushed to change we're likely to get grumpy and dig in our heels.

This first 'Unfreezing' stage involves moving ourselves, or a department, or an entire business towards motivation for change. The Kurt LewinForce Field Analysisis a useful way to understand this process and there are plenty of ideas of how this can be done.

Stage 2: Change - or Transition

Kurt Lewin was aware that change is not an event, but rather aprocess. He called that process a transition.

Transition is the innermovement or journey we make in reaction to a change. This second stageoccurs as we make the changes that are needed.

People are 'unfrozen' and moving towards a new way of being.

(Video) Lewin, Stage Model of Change Unfreezing Changing Refreezing AnimatedPart 5

Thatsaid this stage is often the hardest as people are unsure or evenfearful. Imagine bungey jumping or parachuting. You may have convincedyourself that there is a great benefit for you to make the jump, but nowyou find yourself on the edge looking down. Scary stuff! But when youdo it you may learn a lot about yourself.

This is not an easy timeas people are learning about the changes and need to be given time tounderstand and work with them. Transition is a process that occurs within each of us. There's no set time limit as each of us is different.

Support is really important here and canbe in the form of training, coaching, and expecting mistakes as part ofthe process.

Using role models and allowing people to developtheir own solutions will help the change process. It's reallyuseful to keep communicating a clear picture of the desired change - andthe benefits - so people don't lose sight of where they areheading.

Stage 3: Freezing (or Refreezing)

Kurt Lewin refers to this stage as freezing although a lot of peoplerefer to it as 'refreezing'. As the name suggests this stage is aboutestablishing stability once the changes have been made. The changes areaccepted and become the new norm. People form new relationships andbecome comfortable with their routines. This can take time.

It'soften at this point that people laugh and tell me that practicallythere is never time for this 'freezing' stage. And it's just this that'sdrawn criticism to the Kurt Lewin model.

What does Kurt Lewin mean by 'Freeze'?

In today's world ofchange the next new change could happen in weeks or less. There is justno time to settle into comfortable routines. The rigidity of freezingdoes not fit with current thinking about change being a continuous,sometimes chaotic process in which great flexibility is demanded.

Popular thought has moved away from the concept of freezing. Instead,we're urged to think about this final stage as being more flexible, maybe like a milkshake or soft serve ice cream, rather than a rigid frozen block. This way 'Unfreezing' for thenext change might be easier.

Given today's pace of changethis is a reasonable criticism. But it might help to get in touch withwhat Kurt Lewin was actually saying. In 1947 he wrote:

A change towards a higher level of group performance is frequently short-lived, after a "shot in the arm",group life soon returns to the previous level. This indicates that it does not suffice to define the objective of planned change in group performance as the reaching of a different level. Permanency of the new level, or permanency for a desired period, should be included in the objective.

Kurt Lewin, "Frontiers of Group Dynamics", Human Relations, Volume 1, pp. 5-41 (I added the emphasis).

(Video) Lewin’s Change Theory - UnFreeze, Change, ReFreeze Method

Lewin's concern is about reinforcing the change and ensuring that thedesired change is accepted and maintained into the future. Without thispeople tend to go back to doing what they are used to doing. This isprobably what Kurt Lewin meant by freezing - supporting the desiredchange to make sure it continues and is not lost.

Modern models of change, such as theADKAR® model,are more explicit about this step and include Reinforcement as one of their phases. I've also read this final step of freezing referred to as the lock-in effect. Establishing stability only happens when the new changes are locked-in.

Thinkingabout change as a journey might make you think that a journey has abeginning , middle, and an end. While this is useful when thinking aboutthe process of change the reality is that this journey doesn't have anend. Lots of rest stops maybe! Some opportunities for settling down for awhile. But no end. So be careful about thinking that a change processhas a definite end, as the Lewin change management model might seem tosuggest.

In what ways do you think this model might be useful for you?

I'vefound the Kurt Lewin model useful to frame a process of change forpeople that is quite easy to understand. Of course each stage can beexpanded to aid better understanding of the process. Applying theconcepts of Unfreezing, and especially theKurt Lewin Force Field Analysis,at a personal level can give us insight and help us better understand how we deal with change.

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(Video) Lewin's Process Model of Organizational Change


What are the three steps in the Lewin model? ›

Understanding Lewin's Change Management Model

First you must melt the ice to make it amenable to change (unfreeze). Then you must mold the iced water into the shape you want (change). Finally, you must solidify the new shape (refreeze).

Why is Kurt Lewin change model important? ›

Lewin's change management theory helps account for both the uncertainty and resistance to change that can be experienced at all staff levels within an organization.

How do you explain the theory of change? ›

A theory of change is a method that explains how a given intervention, or set of. interventions, are expected to lead to a specific development change, drawing on a. causal analysis based on available evidence.

What does Lewin mean by refreezing? ›

The stage of Refreezing is the ultimate stage in which people accept or internalize the new ways of working or change, accept it as a part of their life and establish new relationships.

How would you explain Kurt Lewin's model? ›

What Is Lewin's Change Model Theory? Kurt Lewin's Force Field Theory states that restraining forces influence the behavior of both the group and individuals, ultimately deciding the fate of change. The driving forces motivate & steer employees towards the new state.

What is the focus of Kurt Lewin's theory? ›

Lewin's Field Theory proposed that behavior is the result of the individual and the environment. This theory had a major impact on social psychology, supporting the notion that our individual traits and the environment interact to cause behavior.

What is Lewin's theory of learning what are its main concepts? ›

Lewin's theory regards learning as a relativistic process by which a learner develops new insight or changes old ones. According to the theory, learning is not a mechanistic process of connecting stimuli and responses within a biological organism.

What is the three step model? ›

Kurt Lewin developed a change model involving three steps: unfreezing, changing and refreezing. For Lewin, the process of change entails creating the perception that a change is needed, then moving toward the new, desired level of behavior and, finally, solidifying that new behavior as the norm.

What is the 3 stage approach? ›

Clara E. Hill demonstrates her three-stage model of helping clients. This three-stage approach involves exploration, insight, and action. The exploration stage is based on client-centered theory, and aims to help clients explore their thoughts and feelings.

What are the steps in the Lewin Schein theory of change? ›

Schein's theory is based on Lewin's change model, so organizational leaders must understand the three-stages: Unfreezing, changing, and refreezing.

What is step 3 in leading change? ›

The third step in the process of leading change involves forming a strategic vision. This vision is vital to allow you to demonstrate a strategic direction and to inspire those people who will be involved in the change. The vision must be clear, and must be understood and spark an interest in no more than five minutes.


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