By Mark Hawkins.
Early in the 20th century, Kurt Lewin created his famous “Unfreeze, Change, Freeze” framework. Since then there have been many models for effecting organisational change, however there is something profound in Lewin’s simple model.
The symbolism of “unfreezing” is important. For any change management undertaking to be successful, the affected people need to change their paradigms. Embedded in Lewin’s model is the notion that change cannot take place until the “unfreezing” process has happened. People are generally frozen in their current paradigms.
This notion of unfreezing is often skimmed over or even missed completely in many change undertakings. It is perhaps quite natural for change leaders to focus on communicating the vision for the future and the benefits of the change. However, even when people can logically see benefits in a change and have even been convinced of its merits, they can still resist it because they are frozen in their paradigms.
A critical part of the first step in change management (establishing a sense of urgency) is that there should be a significant focus on establishing and communicating the flaws and inadequacies that exist in the current paradigm. Something needs to be ‘broken’ before people see a need to ‘fix’ it.
If change leaders think about people being frozen in their paradigms, they are likely to pay a lot more attention to the unfreezing process rather than simply focussing on the change phase. Lewin’s model might indeed be simple, however it does provide a symbolism that helps us to think about how we might approach the entire change management process.
If something is frozen, change is virtually impossible until it is unfrozen. As simple as this notion is, without achieving the unfreezing process, even the most sophisticated, well developed and well-executed change phases are likely to meet insurmountable structural inertia.
Mark Hawkins is a Principal Consultant at Competitive Advantage Consulting. He is an experienced CEO and holds a Masters degree (first class honours) from the University of Melbourne and has completed the Competitive Strategy Program at Harvard Business School. Mark is available as a management consultant and can be contacted at email@example.com.