Organizational Change and Development: Lewin’s Change Model

Lewin’s change model conceptualizes behavior in terms of a dynamic balance between two conflicting forces. These include driving and restraining forces. Driving forces lead to change by motivating members of the organization to adopt the desired behaviors. By contrast, restraining forces discourage change by encouraging resistance to proposed behaviors. In Lewin’s model, change occurs through three stages namely, unfreezing, moving, and refreezing. Unfreezing is the first stage in which the need for change is created in the organization by eliminating the forces that sustain the existing status quo (Burke 2010, p. 113). The strategies for unfreezing an organization include disconfirmation, creating psychological safety, and initiating anxiety.

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Psychological disconfirmation involves creating a feeling of dissatisfaction through the information that disconfirms the expectations of members of the organization. The importance of dissatisfaction is that it motivates members of the organization to accept change (Eastman 2012, pp. 132-140). According to Senior and Swailes (2010, p. 208), disconfirmation facilitates change by creating a feeling of anxiety. Concisely, members of the organization must believe that they will fail to achieve a specific goal if they do not accept change. In this regard, it is necessary to initiate anxiety (survival anxiety) so that people can identify the organizational systems that are not working and to develop appropriate solutions in time (Burke 2010, p. 118). However, survival anxiety usually fails to facilitate change because people often develop learning anxiety. Concisely, learning anxiety leads to resistance to change by creating the feeling that acknowledging existing weaknesses will lead to the loss of self-esteem and effectiveness. Consequently, it is important to eliminate learning anxiety by creating psychological safety. This involves convincing members of the organization that the change process will create benefits rather than harm.

After the unfreezing process, the organization proceeds to the moving stage by adopting new systems and behaviors that facilitate the achievement of a shared vision (Alma & Jervis 2007, p. 145). This stage involves acquiring new information that is central to the change process. The sources of new information include role models and environmental scanning. Role models facilitate change through a cognitive restructuring process in which members of the organization acquire new meanings to various concepts that are related to organizational performance (Myers, Hulks & Wiggins 2012, p. 130). The organization can also conduct internal and external environmental analyses (scanning) in order to access the information that is relevant to its change process.

Refreezing is the final stage of the change process. It focuses on the implementation of systems that enhance the longevity of the introduced changes (Alma & Jervis 2007, p. 147). This involves reinforcing and institutionalizing new behavior patterns through policies. The rationale of this stage is that members of the organization are likely to revert to the old behaviors if the introduced changes are not stabilized by minimizing the restraining forces that oppose them. Generally, change can be categorized as either content-driven or process-driven.

Content-Driven Verses Process-Driven Change

Content-driven change is characterized by the implementation of specific programs such as customer relationship management in order to address the weaknesses of the organization. The top management usually introduces content-driven change by utilizing standardized solutions to improve the performance of the organization. The importance of content-driven change is that it can be implemented quickly. This enables organizations that operate in highly competitive industries to develop timely solutions to challenges or threats, as well as, to take advantage of available opportunities (Eastman 2012, pp. 132-140). However, content-driven change is not based on the shared diagnosis. In a nutshell, there is little or no consultation between the management and members of the organization in content-driven change. This can lead to resistance or little commitment, especially, if employees’ opinions concerning the change process are not incorporated in the management’s decisions.

In process-driven change, all members of the organization collaborate in order to achieve specific strategic goals. Concisely, the management and consultants work with employees to identify the problems in the organization. This leads to “joint ownership of the change process, which in turn enhances the commitment of all stakeholders” (Myers, Hulks & Wiggins 2012, p. 130). Process-driven change involves aligning behaviors to the strategic goals of the organization (Burke 2010, p. 159). In particular, the desired organizational behaviors, norms, and systems are developed and implemented through collaborative problem-solving techniques rather than change programs. Moreover, task alignment is the main technique for implementing change. Task alignment is characterized by the identification of important tasks in the organization and redefining the roles and responsibilities of employees so that they can perform the identified tasks effectively.

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Sequential Model for Effective Change Implementation

Regardless of the change category chosen by an organization, an effective model must be used to implement the desired change. The sequential model facilitates effective change implementation through the following stages. The first stage involves designing new and appropriate behaviors by creating roles, responsibilities, and relationship systems that are aligned to the organization’s strategic goals. In this stage, members of the organization work as a team to identify the systems or behaviors that need to be changed, as well as, the strategies or requirements for change (Myers, Hulks & Wiggins 2012, p. 184). In the second stage, members of the organization are assisted to adopt the new behaviors through training and mentorship programs.

The third stage focuses on talent management. This involves implementing appropriate staffing policies, succession planning, and fair performance appraisal systems (Burke 2010, p. 172). The last stage involves creating systems and structures that sustain the new changes. Thus, it is similar to the refreezing stage in Lewin’s change model, which focuses on reinforcing new behaviors. At this stage, the organization ensures that it has a clear reporting structure, an effective reward system, and proper control of its employees and departments.

Generally, the organization must focus on mutual engagement in order to implement each of the stages described in the foregoing paragraph. Mutual engagement ensures the commitment of all stakeholders in the change process (Burke 2010, p. 172). The elements of mutual engagement include mutuality, reciprocity, advocacy, and inquiry. Mutuality is enhanced if all stakeholders are willing and able to learn and change. Through reciprocity, the stakeholders in the change process should be able to learn from each other. In order to ensure mutuality and reciprocity, the change agents should focus on encouraging advocacy and inquiry in the organization. This is because advocacy enables stakeholders in the change process to share their assumptions and beliefs. Inquiry is also important because it enables members of the organization to challenge each other’s positions and beliefs.


Alma, W & Jervis, W 2007, Core Values, and Organizational Change: Theory and Practice, Cengage Learning, New York.

Burke, W 2010, Organizational Change: Theory and Practice, SAGE Publishing, London.

Eastman, C 2012, ‘Working with Toshiba, Lewin, and Dewey: A Journey into the Heart of Change’, Higher Education, Skills and Work-Based Learning, vol. 2 no. 1, pp. 132-140.

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Myers, P, Hulks, S & Wiggins, L 2012, Organizational Change: Perspectives on Theory and Practice, John Wiley and Sons, New York.

Senior, B & Swailes, S 2010, Organizational Change, McGraw-Hill, New York.

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