Understanding Organizational Development and Executing Successful Change Process–Kurt Lewin’s Model

“ Unfortunately, some people will genuinely be harmed by change, particularly those who benefit strongly from the status quo. Others may take a long time to recognize the benefits that change brings. You need to foresee and manage these situations.” Kurt Lewin, 1939

Sometimes, as I look at the poorly planned approach of the White House and Congress attempts to lead us out of these difficult times I wonder if any of our leader’s have studied or learned about the how to institute and manage the process of successful change projects. Or are they just flying by the intuitive “seat of their pants” which guarantees  a longer period for adjustment and acceptance of change initiatives and more suffering when changing large system like Health Care, Deficit Reduction and job creation programs.

So I am going to provide one straightforward and simple model developed by Dr. Kurt Lewin,who has been called the founding father of  Organizational Development and Change Management for their edification and use.

Lewin’s Model for Understanding the Processes of Organizational Development and Change  

One of the cornerstone models for understanding organizational change was developed by Kurt Lewin back in the 1940s, and still holds true today. His model is known as the three-step process for change–Unfreeze – Change – Refreeze. Lewin used a clear, concise and compelling analogy for explaining the change process by describing the simple process of changing the shape of a block of ice into the shape of a cone.

Block of Ice Analogy for understanding Change Process

If you have a large cube of ice, but realize that what you want is a cone of ice, what do you do? 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).

By looking at change as process with distinct stages, you can prepare yourself for what is coming and make a plan to manage the transition – looking before you leap, so to speak. All too often, people go into change blindly, causing much unnecessary turmoil and chaos.

To begin any successful change process, you must first start by understanding why the change must take place. As Lewin put it, “Motivation for change must be generated before change can occur. One must be helped to re-examine many cherished assumptions about oneself and one’s relations to others.” This is the unfreezing stage from which change begins. If you more details on Lewin’s practical Change Management Model see this website or see a summary on our next page. Practical Steps for Using the Framework:


1. Determine what is the current state of things and what needs to change to create a better future

Survey the organization to understand the current state

  • Understand why change has to take place.

2. Ensure there is strong support from upper management for desired changes

Use Stakeholder Analysis and Stakeholder Management to identify and win the support of key people within the organization for change

Frame the issue as one of organization-wide importance.

3. Create the need for change

  • Create a compelling message as to why change has to occur
  • Use your vision and strategy as supporting evidence
  • Communicate the vision in terms of the change required
  • Emphasize the “why”.

4. Manage and understand the doubts and concerns

  • Remain open to employee concerns and address in terms of the need to change.

Introduce and Start Change Process

1. Communicate often

  • Do so throughout the planning and implementation of the changes
  • Describe the benefits
  • Explain exactly the how the changes will effect everyone
  • Prepare everyone for what is coming.

2. Tap down the “grapevine” and rumor mills adverse messages

  • Answer questions openly and honestly
  • Deal with problems immediately
  • Relate the need for change back to operational necessities.

3. Empower action

  • Provide plenty of options for employee involvement
  • Have line managers provide day–to–day direction.

4. Involve people in the process

  • Generate short-term successes to reinforce the change
  • Negotiate with external stakeholders as necessary (such as employee organizations).


1. Anchor the changes into the culture

  • Identity what supports the change
  • Identify barriers to sustaining change.

2. Develop ways to sustain the change

  • Ensure leadership support
  • Create a reward system
  • Establish feedback systems
  • Adapt the organizational structure as necessary.

3. Provide support and training

  • Keep everyone informed and supported.

4. Document and evaluate results and celebrate success!

Summary Points

Lewin’s change model is a simple and easy-to-understand framework for managing change.

By recognizing these three distinct stages of change, you can plan to implement the change required. You start by creating awareness, evidence and reasons, to produce buy-in and  motivation to change (unfreeze). You move through the change process by promoting effective communications and empowering people to embrace new ways of thinking, behaving and working together to reach a new reality (change). And the process ends when you return the organization to a sense of stability and productivity (refreeze), which is so necessary for creating the confidence from which to embark on the next, inevitable change. Continuous improvement to keep the ice in the shape that works best for everyone. Lack of understanding of the power of fear and the comfort of the status quo ? Or lack of effective leadership, organizing and understanding of the process of a complex change process as defined by Dr.Kurt Lewin, who said the following about the complexity of changing the status quo : “ Unfortunately, some people will genuinely be harmed by change, particularly those who benefit strongly from the status quo. Others may take a long time to recognize the benefits that change brings. You need to foresee and manage these situations.” Lewin back in 1939 identified three types of effective leadership which style did Obama use in trying to pass his “Jobs bill” ?

One thought on “Understanding Organizational Development and Executing Successful Change Process–Kurt Lewin’s Model”

  1. Reblogged this on The Wick and commented:

    Ever wonder How Organizational Development and Change Management started? This article reviews Kurt Lewin’s, the founding father’s, view of OD and Change Management. Enjoy Coach Mark

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