Change Management Models

Kurt Lewin's 3 steps

Change Management Models

Kurt Lewin's 3 steps

Many of today’s change management models owe much to social psychologist, Kurt Lewin.

Published in 1947, Lewin’s was one of the first models to structure a change process. It emphasised that change was a process which needed to be understood.

The father of change management models

Lewin is often considered the father of modern change management theory. His work has influenced many models. For example, Appreciative Inquiry is informed by Lewin’s notion of action research. You can read more about this positive approach to change in our article: “change management model: a strength based approach to change”.

Interestingly, Lewin’s ideas were not primarily focused on the organisation. Lewin’s primary concern was to address social conflict and find ways to change behaviour in society. Lewin was a Polish Jew who fled Nazi Germany to the US. It is hardly surprising that his focus should be on eliminating social conflict, especially with minority groups.

However his theories have taken firm root in the field of business. Many of the change management models in use today, and the ideas that underpin them, have much in common with his now famous 3 step change model.

Lewin’s Change Management Model

The model typifies a planned change approach to change with three stages:

Unfreezing– starting the process of making the change. understanding the need for change, minimising forces against change whilst maximising forces for change. Lewin recognized that change was often difficult, especially within wider society. Therefore unfreezing a situation could be a difficult stage. He advocated a “felt need” requirement – an individual’s inner realisation that change is necessary.

Moving– creating movement towards the intended change. How are you managing the change to a new level? Creating movement also requires reinforcement; without reinforcement change is often short lived.

Re-freezing– stabilizing the change and new performance. Evaluate and support the change (sustain the new level). Do your processes, people and systems all support and reinforce the changes you have made? Have you embedded sufficiently the changes into how the organisation now works?

Change management models: Lewin's 3 stage process

Lewin’s 3-stage model: unfreeze; change; re-freeze


The terms “unfreezing” and “re-freezing” may suggest an organisational rigidity and stability that is no longer a reflection of today’s organisation. Hence we see more complex change management models in use today. However the 3-steps still offer a basic and helpful view of managing change processes. Simple of course is not the same as easy.

Whilst Lewin’s 3 step model has a simplicity about it, the steps are not easy: change is not easy to initiate to carry out or to embed. As Bernard Burnes stated, in his re-appraisal of the planned change approach:

… change towards a higher level of performance is frequently short lived; after a “shot in the arm”, group life soon returns to the previous level.

Managing change is much more than a set of processes and steps, it should be guided by principles that help shape change. We propose some principles to help shape how you manage change in our article: “Definition of Change Management”.

For more on change management, see our articles that examine some of the ideas behind a “Theory of Change Management” and try to answer the question: “What is Change Management”.

Making change management easier!

For some practical tips on how to manage change, look at our great-value guides (below). These include some excellent tools to help you change yourself, and manage change at work.

The best way to use these is to buy our Managing Change bundle, available from the store. We’ve bundled together five e-guides, available at half the normal price!

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