11.5.1: Lewin's Change Model

One of the early fundamental models of planned change was provided by Kurt Lewin in 1951. He conceived of change as modification of those forces keeping a system's behaviour stable or in equilibrium. Specifically, according to Kurt Lewin (1951) a particular set of behaviours at any moment in time is the result of two groups of forces: those striving to maintain the status quo and those pushing for change. When both sets of forces are about equal, current behaviours are maintained in what Lewin termed a state of "quasi-stationary equilibrium". To change that state, one can increase those forces pushing for change and decrease those forces maintaining the current state, or apply some combination of both. For example, the level of performance of a work group might be stable because group norms maintaining that level are equivalent to the supervisor's pressure for change to higher levels. This level can be increased either by changing the group norms to support higher levels of performance or by increasing supervisor pressure to produce at higher levels. Lewin suggested that modifying those forces maintaining the status quo produces less tension and resistance than increasing forces for change.

Lewin viewed this change process as consisting of the following three steps:

Figure 11.2 Lewin's Process of change

Unfreezing: This step usually involves reducing those forces maintaining the organization's behaviour at its present level. Unfreezing is sometimes accomplished through a process of "psychological disconfirmation". By introducing information that shows discrepancies between behaviours desired by organization members and those behaviours currently exhibited, members can be motivated to engage in change activities.

Transition/moving: This step shifts the behaviour of the organization, department, or individual to a new level. It involves intervening in the system to develop new behaviours, values, and attitudes through changes in organizational structure and processes.

Refreezing: This step stabilizes the organization at a new state of equilibrium. It is frequently accomplished through the use of supporting mechanisms that reinforce the new organizational state, such as organizational culture, norms, policies and structures.

Roles in the Organizational Change Process

During any organizational change process, four roles are essential to the

success of the change process. These are the change sponsor, the change agent, the change advocate, and the change participant.

a) Change Sponsor - A sponsor is the individual (or group) with the power to determine that change will occur. They are responsible to introduce the change and legitimize it by using their organizational power and influence to legitimize the change. In most institutions, a change sponsor is usually performed by executive or upper administration.

b) Change Agent - An agent is the individual (or group) responsible for seeing that a previously determined change occurs. They design and implement or help to implement the change. The role of change agent is normally performed by middle or lower level administration.

c) Change Advocate - An advocate is the individual (or group) who want to achieve a change but lacks the power to sanction it and require support from the appropriate sponsor who can approve the change. Any individual within an organization who has a good idea and the ability to communicate it can be a change advocate.

d) Change Participant - A participant is an individual (or group) who, as a result of the change, will alter their knowledge, skills, attitudes, or behavior. These people are the focus of the change effort and must be educated to understand the changes they are expected to accommodate. Typically, they are part of a workgroup. In a change project, change agents assist them in adapting to the change.

All roles act interdependently in all three states (unfreezing, transition, refreezing) of the change process, but certain roles are more critical at specific states of a change project. Without the power and influence of change sponsors to unfreeze the status quo and effectively oversee the implementation of the change process, the likelihood of change is extremely low. Change agents demonstrate their greatest contribution by serving as planners, diagnosticians, implementers, translators, ombudsmen, coaches, and negotiators among sponsors and participants during the transition phase. Change advocates help sponsors understand the implications and importance of the change. Change participants determine whether or not the intended modification of knowledge, skill attitudes, or behavior actually occurs during the refreezing phase.

Force Field Analysis

Kurt Lewin also developed the 'force field analysis' model (1951) which describes any current level of performance or being as a state of equilibrium between the driving forces that encourage upward movement and the restraining forces that discourage it. Essentially this means that a current equilibrium exists because the forces acting for change are balanced by the forces acting against change.

  • The driving forces are (usually) positive, reasonable, logical, conscious and economic.
  • The restraining forces are (usually) negative, emotional, illogical, unconscious and social/psychological.

Force field analysis is a general-purpose diagnostic and problem-solving technique. Every behavior is the result of an equilibrium between driving and restraining forces. There are forces that push for change (driving) and forces that hinder change (restraining). If the forces offset each other completely, it results in equilibrium and status quo. Change is brought about by increasing the driving forces or reducing the restraining forces.

The change process consists of:

  • Identifying the restraining forces and overcoming/removing/getting round them.
  • Carrying out the change.
  • Stabilizing the new situation by reinforcing the (now changed) behavior of individuals and work groups with praise and encouragement.

Figure 11.3 illustrates the structure of a force field analysis.

Figure 11.3 Force Field Analysis

Once you have carried out an analysis, you can decide whether your project is viable. In the example below, you might initially question whether it is worth going ahead with the plan.

Where you have already decided to carry out a project, Force Field Analysis can help you to work out how to improve its probability of success. Here you have two choices:

  • To reduce the strength of the forces opposing a project.
  • To increase the forces pushing a project.

Often the best solution is trying to reduce the forces opposing a project. If you had to implement the project in the example above, the analysis might suggest a number of changes to the initial plan:

  • By training staff (increase cost by 1) you could eliminate fear of technology (reduce fear by 2)
  • It would be useful to show staff that change is necessary for business survival (new force in favor, +2)
  • Staff could be shown that new machines would introduce variety and interest to their jobs (new force, +1)
  • You could raise wages to reflect new productivity (cost +1, loss of overtime -2)
  • Slightly different machines with filters to eliminate pollution could be installed (environmental impact -1)

These changes would swing the balance from 11:10 (against the plan), to 8:13 (in favor of the plan).

Figure 11.4 Example of a force field analysis

IDevice Icon Activity

Imagine that you are the project manager in a large supermarket responsible for installing a new management information system. Refer to the example in Figure 1 above and draw up a force field analysis for the project.