Corporate Training Management
Corporate Change a Process Not an Event
August 23, 2009
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“If you want to truly understand something, try to change it.”- Kurt Lewin

It is a sad fact that nearly 80 per cent of all major change initiatives fail. Research into the cause point to people not accepting and adopting change as the single greatest obstacle to success.

In 1932, Kurt Lewin, a renowned academic who fled Nazi Germany, proposed a host of new ideas on human behavior, its formation and its consistency. Through many studies and applications he evolved a very simple model for changing the way people think and act. Eventually the model became known as the three-phase model: unfreezing, transformation and refreezing.

Unfreezing refers to the idea of shocking a system out of complacency. It means creating awareness and understanding the status quo is no longer sufficient and that trying to maintain things as they are, or return to the “good old days” won’t work. It is amazing how that advice is so relevant in today’s organizational setting.

Transformation, the process of making purposeful adjustments to the way one operates, according to Lewin, will only take place after the status quo has been altered.

Refreezing refers to the process of making the adjustments to the system part of “the way we do things around here.”

Many books have been written about how to actually transform an organization and many of them can be traced to Lewin. They have borrowed and built upon his work, developing sophisticated models for change at both the individual and organizational levels.

The conclusion one can draw from the wealth of literature and advice on how to transform an organization is that, in truth, there is no single right approach for tackling change. However, there are some general principles that, based on the issues at hand, tend to work better than others.

Change as a process, not an event, is the first example of a principle that seems to be effective. At the heart of this principle is the belief that change requires a process for converting the behavior of key groups of people. By anticipating and organizing the tactics necessary to convert behaviors, an organization will minimize the time, dollars, energy and loss in productivity caused by change and upheaval.

A second principle is that stakeholder involvement is necessary but not sufficient. Ensuring those affected by the change have a voice in the process is an effective means of achieving acceptance and support. However, it is unreasonable to assume all employees can participate in every decision, particularly the more strategic choices that should quite properly be in the hands of the leadership team.

A third principle is that communication is critical to successful change. In a situation of rapid change and upheaval, where old rules don’t apply and new rules have not been created, people need reassurance that someone is in charge, that someone knows where the organization is headed and has a plan to get there.

Change is, therefore, dependent on the organization’s willingness and ability to communicate the process, the decision rationale, and the projected impact of decisions on individuals and groups.

The final principle is to understand that a sense of urgency is good, but a feeling of anxiety is bad. Jolting people out of complacency is a necessary step in the change process. A sense of urgency is created when a threat and a solution are readily identifiable and results in channeling energy into useful behavior. Anxiety is created when only the threat, either real or imagined, is identified.

Understanding these key principles will help ensure the level of commitment to the change increases and the level of resistance to the change decreases, a scenario that speaks to success.

Article by: David A. Bratton

About author

Dr Shailesh Thaker

Dr. Shailesh Thaker is a world-renowned management thinker and trainer on organizational behavior and development. He is the CLO of Knowledge Plus Inc., a highly reputed training firm based in Ahmedabad, India, helping organizations to achieve international benchmarks in management practices.

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