Change Management MGMT625
LESSON # 3
KURT LEWIN MODEL: ASSUMPTIONS AND IMPLICATIONS
Theories and models are always based on some set of assumptions. This model too has some basic
assumptions which are as under:
1. An Individual or group performance is prone to regression unless some measures are taken to
institutionalise the improved performance level
2. There is a tension in person whenever a psychological need or intent exists, and the tension is
released when the need or intention is fulfilled.
3. This tension may be positive or negative, and under conflict situation this is identified as "force
field". Hence the term is known as force field analysis so as to evaluate the tension between positive or
facilitating forces and negative or constraining forces the given change plan.
Further to him there are three fundamental types of conflict.
1. Individuals stand mid-way between two positive goals of approximately equal strengths; for e.g.
individual has to choose between two good systems, so which one to buy.
2. Individuals find themselves between two approximately equal negative goals; for e.g. if an individual
has to make a choice between two things which he dislikes, that is a choice of lesser evil.
3. Individuals are equally exposed to opposing positive and negative forces
These assumptions about motivation process and conflict typology in human nature lead Lewin to
propose three staged model of a planned change management process.
Stage 1. Unfreeze the current equilibrium:
Before going for change in first stage we have to create tension amongst the recipient of change that
some thing is not good in the on-going system. This is to create emotional stir up which is to break the
shell of complacency and self righteousness amongst the subject of change. The reason is to break the
personal defences and group norms psychologically before actually going for change. In the words of
Edgar Schein this stage consists of the following attributes:
1) The physical removal of the individuals being changed from the accustomed routines, sources of
information and social relationships
2) The undermining and destruction of all social support.
3) Demeaning and humiliating experience to help individual. Being changed to see their old attitude or
behaviour as unworthy and thus motivated to change. Here I would like to give example of ragging of
new entrants from military training. New entrants are deliberately targeted for their existing behaviour,
norms and identity by the senior cadets so as to acquire new way of thinking and sociology. More over
they are deprived of social support as training academies are situated at far off places and candidates are
not permitted to meet their family members
4) The consistent linking of reward with willingness to change and of punishment with unwillingness to
change. Old behaviour is punished and new or desired behaviour is to be rewarded. There would not be
any meaningful change if the change targets perceive no linkage of reward and the desired behaviour, or
Change Management MGMT625
if the old behaviour and norms are continued to be rewarded.
For Schein Unfreeze stage must simultaneously coupled with the following characteristics:
1. Disconfirmation of expectation
2. Induction of learning anxiety if the disconfirming data are accepted as valid and relevant. There
would not be any need felt for change and learning one thinks he has already perfect knowledge, and
stays confident. In other words one feels discomfort able with the existing system, performance level
knowledge or state of affairs. Similarly if there is no learning anxiety individuals are least pushed for
change as they getting satisfaction from the existing ones. This is also known as mind blockage when
people refuse to accept new or changed reality or they are in a state of disbelief and refusing to learn the
3. Provision of psychological safety that converts anxiety into motivation to change. If anxiety gets
converted not fear it will be creating resistance for change. Therefore anxiety should be strong enough
to be a source of motivation for change
This point is very critical and crucial because if we admit something with ourselves as wrong we will
loose effectiveness, self efficacy, self-esteem or even our identity. Therefore in order to learn one has to
be humble. Learning will be lower for individual with higher self esteem and vice versa.
Two types of change:
1) Action level or Symbolic
2) Belief or Cognitive
Comparatively speaking change in beliefs or belief system which is also identified as cognitive
restructuring brings in more sustainable and meaningful change than symbolic and action type of
change. Shock therapy in psychology is one such technique for changing belief of a patient. This kind of
treatment is very common in our social settings. For instance in parents-child relationship is based on
the severity of event if father slaps his son to make him stop doing certain things. The concept of
punishment is also a kind of shock therapeutic technique for behavioural modification. Similarly in real
life certain events change the attitude of a person. This has application in management too. For instance
organization going deficit the fear or shock of close down or job-cuts may motivate individual and
groups to change and work for turn around. While action level or symbolic type manifest at extraneous
to individual and at times is short lived and reflect merely a compliance in outward actions of
individuals or organizational practices only
In order to unfreeze mental programming is good for reducing resistance. Similarly in this stage it is
suggested to establish performance-reward linkage without which change would not be sustainable. A
very simple and powerful technique for motivating for change is to induce reward for performer and no
reward or punishment for non-performer. This is perhaps one very good reason for change efforts to
meet failure in a typical public sector organisation because in such organization senior executives fail to
cultivate or make people perceive such linkage to exist. Because in public sector organizations all
managers (good or bad) get same increment, promotion or other benefits based on seniority or on the
length of service. Therefore very convincing reforms fail to bring in behavioural change because these
reforms meet with failure at the very first stage as these are unable to even unfreeze the situation
2. Change Movement
This means a movement from existing to the desired form. It is a state of transition or transformation
which depicts neither an old state nor a new state of affairs. This is very critical stage as it may either
way backward (in case of failure) or forward. According to one author the time or stage in transition is
known as "crazy period". Generally in this phase individuals and organizations try to cope up
simultaneously both systems; existing and the desired one. The transition process is usually not very
smooth, neat and clean process rather entails upheavals. Important thing is to follow the desired
objectives or system in a consistently. Ambiguity and parallel work of old and new has to be tolerated.
Initial productivity of new system is considered to be lower than the previous system.
Change Management MGMT625
The process is to occur through two mechanisms:
i) Identification when role models are there in the environment, for e.g. individuals who can easily
follow the footsteps of role model and in context of organisation the popular term is bench marking
following the best practices of the industry leaders. Nations also tend to identify other nations as their
model for economic or socio-political development. For instance economic development strategies of
far eastern states like Korean and Chinese are cited to other developing countries for economic
development. In the field of political and constitutional development often USA and UK are identified
as the most democratic and political mature societies.
ii). Internalisation. Knowledge exists most of the time at external level. The most critical aspect is how
to internalise knowledge, therefore just identification and mere knowledge is not enough. Here
internalisation refers to the behavioural aspect of the recipient According to one version only that is
considered to be knowledge which is part of one's behaviour (reflected in action). Therefore going by
this criteria knowledge of good practices is not enough unless good practices are practiced. Movement
from one stage to another stage is initiated by trigger event and manager's personalisation of trigger.
Mood and disposition
Once the new objective or desired state of affairs has been achieved the problem with this phase is to
institutionalise the new system so that people might not revert back to the older ways of doing things.
The purpose in this phase is to stabilize new learning. This can be done through behavioural
reinforcement. In this stage again the effectiveness of performance reward linkage is considered to be
the part of enabling environment. New behaviour is to be internalised. Important note here is that effects
of many training programmes and lectures are short lived when a person returns to the environment that
does not reinforce. Hence continuous and intermittent reinforcement is needed. Another example from
real life is that Pakistanis are known as highly productive abroad but back in their own society they are
known as work shruggers, the difference is on account of enabling environment. Therefore in order to
refreeze the new behaviour, system or equilibrium we have to provide enabling environment.
The model can be applied to all three levels to explain change management phenomenon; societal,
organizational and individual. For instance our society in over all analysis is in transition phase. Older
things, system and traditions have been unfrozen, but we have yet to learn the dynamics of new systems
as the productivity of newly learned behaviour is at lower level than the traditional system. The society
is in transition from agrarian to industrial, rural to urban and traditional to modern. Members of such a
society face a situation of role overload and role conflict bears attributes of both systems. We have
unlearned our traditions but yet to learn modern productive traits. This transition reflects what is
identified by one author as `crazy period'.
At organizational level we can take the example of organization undergoing automation programme.
Therefore first thing is to unfreeze the mindset of managers by creating dissatisfaction about the existing
system file work or manual work. So creating discomfort amongst members of organization about lower
level of productivity, creating sense of urgency and instilling fear of lagging behind in competition,
enlisting perceived benefits for motivating managers are various techniques for unfreezing. During the
second phase of change movement once the decision is taken for automation leads to multiple problems
of learning, training, jobs and position displacements, hiring of computer technologist, budgetary
allocations etc will create unease and tensions in the two types of system; manual and automated one. At
this stage it seems that previous system was better in terms of efficiency and productivity as this reveals
numerous problems with newer systems. Key to successful transformation lies in staying consistent,
learning from mistake and tolerating ambiguity. And finally in the refreeze stage people get accustomed
to newer system as learners and performers are rewarded. Newer behaviour and work ethics are
Change Management MGMT625
Similarly at individuals also undergo through the same stages like when they have to learn new
knowledge, skills or values which are considered to be more productive. First in unfreezing stage
resolving intra-individual conflict or tension, envisioning the desired state and dissatisfaction with
existing levels of knowledge, skills or values. Second is to take actual steps and moving into crazy
period or transition phase which is demanding in terms of learning new habits, values and commitments.
Once the success is achieved individuals needs to programme internalise or refreeze the newly learnt
Table of Contents: