Kurt Lewin’s Force-Field Theory of Change

Change management is a methodical approach to handling with change, not only from the angle of an organization but on the individual level. A rather vague term, change management has more than three different dimensions, adapting to change, controlling change, and effecting change included. A proactive approach to handling with change is at the central part of all three aspects. For an organization, change management means making the definition and implementation of procedures and/or technologies to handle with changes in the business environment and to profit from changing opportunities.

Triumphant adaptation to change is as vital within an organization as it is in the natural world. Just similar to plants and animals, organizations and the individuals in them unavoidably run into changing conditions that they are incapable to control. The more effectively you handle with change, the more probable you are to flourish. Building structured methods for addressing changes in the business environment or building coping mechanisms for addressing changes in the workplace might be involved in adaptation.

As a result, lots of change management models are built to help make the change management more effective. There are several of change management models.  Researcher Kurt Lewin developed a theory about organizational change. According to his force-field theory, these two sets of forces are always in opposition in an organization.

When the forces are evenly balanced, the organization is in a state of inertia and does not change. To get an organization to change, the managers must find a way to increase the forces for change, reduce resistance to change, or do both simultaneously. Any of these strategies will overcome inertia and cause an organization to change.

Kurt Lewin’s Force-Field Theory of Change

An organization at performance level X is in balance. Forces for change and resistance to change are equal. Management, however, decides that the organization should strive to achieve performance level Y. To get to level Y, the managers must increase the forces for change (the increase is represented by the lengthening of the up arrows), reduce resistance to change (the reduction is represented by the shortening of the down arrows), or do both. If they pursue any of the three strategies successfully, the organization will change and reach performance level Y. Kurt Lewin’s Force-Field Theory argues that organizations are balanced between forces for change and resistance to change, has a related perspective on how managers can bring change to their organization.

Kurt Lewin’s 3-Step Change Process

In Lewin’s view, implementing change is a three-step process : (1) unfreezing the organization from its present state, (2) making the change, or movement, and (3) refreezing the organization in the new, desired state so that its members do not revert to their previous work attitudes and role behaviors.

Lewin explained organizational change applying the analogy-changing the shape of an ice block.

  • First stage: Unfreezing

This is possibly one of the most critical stages to realize in the area of change we find ourselves today. The stage is about making preparations for the change that is about to happen. In this stage, we must understand that change is necessary and we must be prepared to move away from our present comfort zone. The more we perceive the need for a change, the more urgent it becomes and the more our motivation to make the change. You can compare this with having a job to be delivered within a deadline. The closer the deadline, the more likely you are to hurriedly get the job started. The deadline for a job is usually tied around some kind of rewards or punishment. Without a deadline, the urge to change is lower compared to the need to change. The motivation to make the change, and get on with it also becomes lower.

It is important to weigh the ‘pro’s’ and ‘con’s’ and then be sure that the ‘pro’s’ outnumbers the ‘con’s’ before you take off. This leads us to what Lewin termed the Force field Analysis.

Force Field Analysis shows us that there are different factors (forces) that we need to observe when making change. Some are for while some are against. If, the factors for change is more than the factors beside change we will make change. Otherwise, there is low motivation and if we force a change we’re likely to be heading for a danger.

The first stage of unfreezing is moving our selves, or a department, or an entire organization towards motivation for change and one good way of doing this is by using The Kurt Lewin Force Field Analysis.

  • Second Stage: Change or Transition

The second stage called change or transition takes place as we formulate the changes that are required. According to Kurt Lewin, change is as a process and not an event. The process is what he called transition. He then described transition as the inner movement we make in response to a change.

This stage is often the hardest because people are uncertain and fearful. The period is more difficult as people are learning about the change which requires some understanding to work with. Therefore it is very important to give them all the necessary support in the form of coaching and training and to have it in mind that mistakes are part of the change process. It is more helpful using role models and giving people room to develop their own solution towards making the change. It is also essential to let people have an understandable image of the required change and the usual benefits. By so doing, they stay focused, and this can only be achieved through effective communication.

  • Third Stage: Freezing or Refreezing

This stage focused on establishing stability after the changes are made. The changes become the new way of doing things. Although it takes time for people to get used to the new norms as they have to form new relationships, but as time goes on they become adapted and comfortable with their routines.

However there has been a lot of criticism and people argue that practically there is never time for the so called ‘freezing’ stage. The world is so dynamic now and it might just take a couple of weeks for another change to happen. Hence, there is no time to settle into comfortable routines. The ‘freezing’ sounds too rigid and does not fit with the modern idea of change which is a continuous and sometimes a disorderly process in which greater flexibility is demanded. For this reason, it is recommended that we think of this final stage as being more flexible, instead of a rigid frozen block. Consequently, unfreezing for the next change becomes easier.

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