2 Pieces To The Puzzle Of Organizational Change
Kurt Lewin, the consummate applied social scientist, is responsible for giving us three of the ten concepts that support effective OC practice: Forcefield Analysis, The Three-Stage Model of Change, and the Action Research Model. I will cover the first two concepts in this article
Lewin’s first concept, and practice tool, is called Forcefield Analysis. Lewin believed every organizational situation, no matter how dysfunctional, benefits someone. I have found this concept and tool to be very effective in Organizational Change practice.
Lewin believed the status quo is a result of driving forces and resisting forces. Driving forces are pushing or “driving” for change. Resisting forces exist because some parties benefit from the current situation, or status quo. Thus, the status quo is the result of the strengths of the two opposing forces.
In practice, Lewin recommended working to reduce the resisting forces, instead of increasing the driving forces. He believed simply increasing the driving forces would result in an escalation in the resisting forces against the change. The parties resisting change (supporting the status quo) are usually highly motivated.
Another concept closely associated with Forcefield Analysis is what Lewin called the Three-Step Model of Change. He believed change required three steps: unfreezing the current situation, moving, and then refreezing the new situation (a new status quo). At first glance, this may appear to be obvious and simplistic. But the steps are very important.
The OC consultant must first help the organization to see the dysfunctionality (ineffectiveness) of the current situation. Remember, we are dealing with some organizational members who benefit from the current status quo.
To move the organization or the unit (to change behavior) requires a planned intervention. This will be a time of insecurity and fear for many organizational members. Fortunately, there are many structured interventions available to OC consultants. I cover interventions in Part II of my book, “Strategic Organizational Change.”
In step three, Lewin said we must “refreeze” the situation. In practice, I have found this step to be essential. In order to get the change to hold, there must be a supportive environment for the change. This means management must commit resources and reward desired behaviors; otherwise, the organizational members will slip back into their old, comfortable ways of doing things.
Anthony Buono has correctly added, “There is a significant difference between dealing with the type of episodic, discontinuous change that Lewin referred to in 1947, when he created this model (dealing, in essence, with organizational inertia), and the type of ongoing, overlapping, continuous change that is happening today.” I expound on Professor Buono’s comments in my chapter on Leading Change.