Managing Change for Employees

Phases of Organizational Change: Lewin

Kurt Lewin’s phases of change (unfreezing, change, and freezing) describe how people react and adapt to change.

Learning Objectives

Explain Kurt Lewin’s Phases of Changes model, a three-stage process allowing for organizational change

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Kurt Lewin described change as a three-stage process that includes unfreezing, change, and freezing. Lewin emphasizes that change is not a series of individual processes but rather one that flows from one process to the next.
  • The first stage (unfreezing) involves overcoming inertia and dismantling the existing “mind set.” This involves getting over the initial defense mechanisms that people exhibit to avoid making a change.
  • In the second stage, the actual change occurs. This is typically a period of confusion and transition in which people are unsure about the change and what may happen in the future.
  • In the third stage (freezing), the new mindset of the change begins to become the standard, and people’s comfort levels return to normal.
  • Although some managers still use Lewin’s model, its most important contribution is the idea that change should be thought of as a process instead of as individual stages.

Key Terms

  • Organizational Psychology: The scientific study of employees, workplaces, and organizations.
  • Defense Mechanisms: Psychological strategies (such as denial, repression, or rationalization) that are brought into play to avoid or adjust to uncomfortable situations.

Change is a fundamental component of any organization looking to continuously improve and evolve. A few researchers and academics have determined how to best model and present methods of change for managing employees. Kurt Lewin was one of these academics and was known as one of the leaders of organizational psychology.

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Kurt Lewin: Lewin was an influential behavioral and organizational psychologist who proposed the Phases of Change Model.

The Three Phases of Change

This early model developed by Lewin describes change as a three-stage process of unfreezing, change, and freezing. In this Phases of Change Model, Lewin emphasizes that change is not a series of individual processes but rather one that flows from one process to the next.

The first stage (unfreezing) involves overcoming inertia and dismantling the existing mind set. It involves getting over the initial defense mechanisms that people exhibit to avoid making a change. People eventually realize that change is necessary and urgent, and this realization allows them to move on to the next stage.

In the second stage, the actual change occurs. This is typically a period of confusion and transition in which people are unsure about the change and what may happen in the future. People are aware that the old ways are being challenged, but they do not yet have a clear picture as to what these ways will be replaced with. During this stage, an organization’s leaders need to focus on clearly communicating to employees the reasons for change and the steps needed to achieve it.

Lewin labeled the third and final stage freezing, though it may be useful to think of this stage as “refreezing.” During this stage, the new mindset of the change begins to become the standard, and people’s comfort levels return to normal. Many people criticize this component of Lewin’s model, arguing that there is never time for people to comfortably adapt to change in the fast-paced world of today.

Although some managers still use Lewin’s model, its most important contribution is the idea that change should be thought of as a process instead of individual stages. This is important for understanding how employees may react to change in the workplace and why some may adapt more quickly to change than others.

Strategies for Successful Organizational Change

To implement a successful change, managers should focus on communication, training, monitoring, and counseling for the workforce.

Learning Objectives

Evaluate differing strategies for enabling changes within an organizational culture while mitigating resistance and issues

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Organizational change often elicits concern and discomfort among employees. Change is a human effort as much as it is a strategic one.
  • During an organizational change, it is essential for managers to communicate the reasons for the change as well as the process needed to make the change. This should include clear objectives and strategic implications.
  • Effective education and training is essential for employees to understand and adapt to a change in the workforce.
  • One of the most important steps in managing a successful change is to monitor how the change is playing out in the organization. Quantitative tools can be used to measure and assess effectiveness.

Key Terms

  • proactive change: The shifting or transitioning of individuals, teams, and organizations from a current state to a desired future state before being incited by an event.
  • reactive change: The shifting or transitioning of individuals, teams, and organizations from a current state to a desired future state in response to an event.

Understanding Change Management

When change is implemented in an organization, there is often resistance. This resistance often stems from people’s fear—of change in the work itself, of change in the process of completing work, or of the possibility that the change may result in the loss of their job. As a result, managers and organizational leaders should have a strategic approach to enabling change that ensures it is maximally effective in the organization.

Change management is the study of how to integrate changes without damaging the organizational culture or efficiency. At its core, change management is about knowing strategically what to change and how to manage the human element of this process. Change management is broken into 4 elements:

  1. Recognize the changes in the broader business environment
  2. Develop the necessary adjustments for the company’s needs
  3. Train employees on the appropriate changes
  4. Win the support of employees

Note that a central themes of change management revolve around training and supporting employees. This is a critical managerial responsibility for enabling change.

Key Enablers to Change

Transparency and Effective Communication

During an organizational change, it is essential for managers to communicate the reasons for the change as well as the process needed to make the change. For example, if management wants to implement a procedure that will help to improve the production of the workforce, but they require a lot of initial labor to get the new procedure up and running, they should communicate why the change in procedure is necessary. If staff understands why the change is taking place, they will be more likely to agree with the implementation and see the benefit.

Effective Education and Training

Education and training is essential for employees to understand and adapt to a change in the workforce. When a new process is put into place, employees will likely be unfamiliar with the process and how it will fit into their daily workflow. Training in this situation is necessary to help employees become familiar with the change and better adapt to it.

Personal Counseling

When a major change happens in the workplace, some employees may feel very uncomfortable about the change—especially the employees most affected by the change. For these employees it may be useful to have a program, most likely through human resources, that will help them adapt to the change.

Monitoring the Implementation

One of the most important steps in managing a successful change is to monitor how the change is playing out in the organization. This can be done by looking at historical data and examining how employees are performing with the change compared to how they were performing in the past. Additionally, management will want to monitor how the change is affecting the overall production process. If the change is not improving the process after the initial implementation, management may want to fine-tune the process to make sure that the change is successful.

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Generic strategy: Maintaining focus on learning and growth (e.g., employee training), internal business processes (e.g., establishing partnerships), customer-oriented processes (e.g., inspiring loyalty), and financial concerns (e.g., maximizing shareholder value) is integral to successful change management.

Steps to Smooth Organizational Change: Kotter

Kotter’s model details a process where managers may initiate, direct, implement, and foster organizational change via employee engagement.

Learning Objectives

Employ John Paul Kotter’s eight step model to outline steps toward smooth and efficient change in an organization

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • John Paul Kotter is a former professor at the Harvard Business School and is regarded as an authority on leadership and change.
  • The eight stages of Kotter’s change model include: increase urgency, build the guiding team, get the vision right, communicate for buy-in, empower action, create short-term wins, don’t let up, and make change stick.
  • By following Kotter’s eight steps, managers can implement change and make it an integral part of the organization ‘s culture. This is accomplished by making sure that change sticks with the culture and becomes an expected part of the continued development of the organization.

Key Terms

  • vision: A clear, distinctive, and specific vision of the future, usually connected with a leader’s strategic advances for the organization.
  • Buy-in: Support; agreement; approval; blessing (in a secular sense). A sense of believability in the potential outcomes achieved through group process.

John Paul Kotter

John Paul Kotter (born 1947) is a former professor at the Harvard Business School, an acclaimed author, and Chief Innovation Officer at Kotter International. He is regarded as an authority on leadership and change. Kotter created the Eights Steps to Change Model that is currently the most widely-used framework for managing organizational change. In his observations, Kotter concluded that the organizations that are the most successful in implementing change go through the following series of eight steps.

The Eight Steps

1. Increase urgency: Managers must inspire people to move, make objectives real and relevant, and further their desire to make change happen. Getting momentum for change is key.

2. Build the guiding team: The company must get the right people in place as leaders with the right emotional commitment and understanding and the right mix of skills and levels.

3. Get the vision right: Managers must get the team to establish a simple vision and strategy and then focus on the emotional and creative aspects necessary to drive service and efficiency.

4. Communicate for buy-in: Involving as many people as possible, managers must communicate the essentials and appeal and respond to people’s needs. Additionally, they must remove clutter and streamline technological communications, making it efficient rather than overwhelming for employees.

5. Empower action: This step removes obstacles wherever possible, enables constructive feedback, and garners support from leaders—complete with motivational rewards that recognize progress and achievements.

6. Create short-term wins: Managers must set aims that are easy to achieve in manageable chunks. They must also manage the number of initiatives taking place at once and finish current stages before starting new ones.

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Short-term wins: A step in Kotter’s model of change is to celebrate short-term wins while working toward an overall goal of change.

7. Don’t let up: Managers must foster and encourage determination, persistence, and ongoing progress reporting. This can be done by highlighting achieved and future milestones.

8. Make change stick: This step reinforces the value of successful change via recruitment, promotion, and new change leaders. The company should change a fundamental part of the culture during this step so people do not consider it as foreign.

By following these eight steps to successful change, managers can work to mitigate the risks associated with changes that employees do not like. In order to reduce potential organizational obstacles, managers have to make sure that all of their employees are on board with the change and are willing to assist with it.