THE SIMPLEST MODEL OF CHANGE – LEWIN’S FREEZE PHASES
In the early 20th century, psychologist Kurt Lewin identified three stages of change that are still the basis of many approaches today.
People like to feel safe, and in control,and their sense of identity is tied into their present environment; particularly if it has been relatively stable for a while! This creates a feeling of comfort and any challenges to it, even those which may offer significant benefit, can cause discomfort. See why change hurts!
Talking about the future is rarely enough to move them from this ‘frozen’ state and significant work is usually required to ‘unfreeze’ them and get them moving. In frustration some managers start using a Push method to get them moving – coercing them into a change. This can create a lot of unhappiness and frustration.
The Pull method of leadership, persuasion and modeling behavior takes longer but has a better long-term effect . The term ‘change ready’ is often used to describe people who are “unfrozen” and ready to take the next step. Some people become ready for change fairly easily, whilst others take a long time to let go of their comfortable current realities.
For Lewin change is a journey. This journey may not be that simple and the person may need to go through several stages of misunderstanding before they get to the other side.
A classic trap in change is for the leaders to spend months on their own personal journeys and then expect everyone else to cross the chasm in a single bound.
Transition takes time and needs leadership and support! But sometimes transition can also be a pleasant trap – it may feel better to travel hopefully than to arrive – particularly for the team leading the change.
At the other end of the journey, the final goal is to ‘refreeze’, putting down roots again and establishing the new place of stability – embedding new processes and developing a new culture.
In practice, refreezing may be a slow process as transitions seldom stop cleanly, but go more in fits and starts with a long tail of bits and pieces. There are good and bad things about this.
In modern organizations, this stage is often rather tentative as the next change may well be around the next corner. What is often encouraged, then, is more of a state of ‘slushiness’ where freezing is never really achieved (theoretically making the next unfreezing easier). The danger with this that many organizations have found is that people fall into a state of change shock, where they work at a low level of efficiency and effectiveness as they await the next change.
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Wendy Mason is a career coach working mainly with managers and professionals who want to make that jump to senior level while maintaining a good work/life balance. Before working as a coach, Wendy had a long career in both the public and private sectors in general management and consultancy as well as spells in HR. She now divides her time between face to face coaching, and coaching and blogging on-line. You can contact Wendy at firstname.lastname@example.org and find out more at http://wisewolfcoaching.com