Should Organisations Follow Lewin's Classical Change Prescription to 'Refreeze' after the 'Moving' Stage?

Essay 2017 6 Pages

Business economics - Business Management, Corporate Governance



Change is a common feature which displays its impacts through all businesses regardless of size, structure, industry and age. Our world is changing rapidly within the fourth industrial revolution and to sustain in this innovative and competitive era, organisations must adopt, change and react quickly. Organisations that handle change well thrive, whilst those that do not may struggle to survive. Organisational changes such as processes, visions, strategic goals, structures, product lines and offering etc. do not have to be a very complex process.

During the organisational change process, organisations may face different problems and barriers in different stages. Beer and Nohria (2000) have pointed out that approximately two-thirds of transformational change projects fail because of ineffective direction in the change processes. Therefore, organisational leaders, managers and supervisors need to understand what stage they are in now, and how change or transformation can be implemented effectively in the current stage.


Kurt Lewin's three (3) stage theory of change is commonly referred to as Unfreeze, Change (Movement or Transition), Freeze or Refreeze. The model represents a very simple and practical ideal for understanding the change process on personal and organisational level. For Kurt Lewin, the process of change involves creating and developing the perception that a change is essential, then moving toward the new stage, desired level of behaviour and finally, solidifying that new behaviour, workstyle and thinking as the established norm. The model is still widely used and serves as the basis for many modern change models.

This three (3) distinct steps model gives managers or leaders an idea of what implementing change means when dealing with employees, customers and other stakeholders. The three (3) phases of the Lewin model provide necessary guidance on how to make people prepared and ready for a change. Managers or responsible personnel implement new processes, new organisational structure, vision, products; and re-assign tasks, but it generally has been observed that change is only be effective if the people involved embrace it completely and then practice it comfortably.

2.1 Unfreezing (Stage-1)

For Lewin, there is a quasi-stationary equilibrium on human behaviours acting as either driving or restraining forces toward change events (Burnes, 2004; Lewin, 1947). In other words, an organisation might face difficulties that employees within the system suffer a process of “disconfirmations” in the unfreezing stage thus resist changing (Cummings & Worley, 2005). Therefore, in the unfreezing stage, the main focus is to reduce the forces that try to maintain an organisation’s behaviour at its present level. Schein (1999) has indicated that most organisational change projects fail in the beginning stage, the unfreezing stage. It is because organisations neglect the importance of organisational members’ attitudes and beliefs that play a critical role in determining the success of organisational change. The concept of unfreezing is similar to the concept of “creating readiness for organisational change” (Armenakis, Harris, & Mossholder, 1993).

The Unfreezing stage is probably one of the most important and critical stage to understand in the world of change we experience, feel and live it today. This stage is about getting ready to change which involves understanding the change, why it is necessary, and preparing ourselves or others (before the actual change) to move away from our current comfort zone and existing paradigm. The more we feel that change is necessary, the more urgent it is, the more motivated we are to make the change and accordingly, we can passionately, more convincingly stimulate others towards change.

We human in general are lazy, resistive and volatile to accept a change but it has been seen that more likely this situation change when we feel ourselves closer to the deadlines. Our recognition level increase with the passage of time and become more likely to adopt later stage either due to rewards or punishments. If there is no urgency or motive to change most of us will do nothing and will remain in our existing norms. Elkjaer’s (2001) empirical study has indicated that employees who perceive a lack of support from the native organisation tend to have negative responses and little commitment; and trust toward the learning organisation transformation processes. Communication is especially important during the unfreezing stage so that employees can become well informed about the imminent change, the logic behind it and how it will benefit each of the employees in future.

Force Field Analysis:

Field theory plays a central part in all Lewin's work by allowing us and our associates to understand the forces that sustained undesired behaviours, and to identify those forces that would need to be either strengthen or weaken in order to bring about desired actions. The foundation on which planned changes are built is the field theory. Without this, it is not possible to understand the forces that maintain current organisational behaviour and identify those that would have to be modified in order to bring new change.

Unfreezing, lessening internal resistive barriers and getting motivated for the change is all about weighing up the 'pros' and 'cons' and deciding if the 'pros' outnumber the 'cons' before we take any action. This in fact is the foundation of what Kurt Lewin called the Force Field Analysis. Force Field Analysis helps us to consider and weigh different factors (forces) for and against making change that we need to be aware of (analysis). If the factors for change outweigh the factors against change we will implement the change. If not, then there's low motivation to change and unfreezing will require.

2.2 Change, Movement or Transition (Stage-2)

Kurt Lewin was aware that change is not an event, but rather a process. He called that process a transition. Transition is the inner movement or journey we make in reaction to a change. This second stage occurs as we make the changes that are needed. People are 'unfrozen' and moving towards a new way of being. During this important stage, we will encounter people’s doubts and concerns about the change. Some said that this stage is often the hardest as people are unsure or even fearful.

This is not an easy time as people are learning about the changes and need to be given time to understand and work with them. Transition is a process that occurs within each of us. In the movement stage, an organisation’s intervention adoption needs to be concerned with two issues: organisation structure and organisation culture. Wetzel and Buch (2000) have argued that organisational interventions should be congruent with the organisation’s structure. There's no set time limit as each of us is different. Support is really important here and can be in the form of training, mentoring, coaching, and expecting mistakes as part of the process.

Using role models, leadership and allowing people to develop their own solutions will help the change process. It's really useful to keep communicating a clear picture of the desired change so people don't lose sight of where they are heading. For this reason, education, communication, support and time are critical for employees as they become familiar with the change. Again, change is a process that must be carefully planned and executed. Throughout this process, employees should be reminded about the purpose of change and how it would benefit them and their organisation in future once fully implemented.

2.3 Freezing or Refreezing (Stage-3)

Kurt Lewin refers to this stage as freezing although a lot of people refer to it as 'refreezing'. As the name suggests this stage is about establishing stability once a change has been completely enforced and established in people’s psyche. The change is accepted and become the new norm and working standard. People form new relationships and feel relatively more comfortable with their new routines. Lewin’s refreezing component in his planned change model indicates that an organisation should be stabilised and institutionalised in a new state after the movement stage after reinforcing, stabilising and solidifying. Institutionalizing change is the final step but determines the success of new change sustaining (Kotter, 1995).

Popular thought has moved away from the concept of freezing this stage. Instead, we're urged to think about this final stage as being more flexible like water rather rigid as frozen ice block. This way we consider 'Unfreezing' for the next change might be easier. Lewin's concern is about reinforcing the change and ensuring that the desired change is accepted and maintained into the future. Without this people tend to revert back to doing what they are used to doing. Refreezing seeks to stabilize the group at a new quasi-stationary equilibrium in order to ensure that the new behaviours are relatively safe from regression. The main point about refreezing is that new behaviour must be, to some degree, congruent with the rest of the behaviour, personality and environment of the learner or it will simply lead to a new round of disconfirmation (Schein, 1996).

Considerable efforts must be made to ensure the change is not lost; rather, it needs to be cemented into the organisation's culture and maintained as the acceptable way of thinking or doing. Positive rewards and acknowledgment of individualized efforts are often used to reinforce the new state because it is believed that positively reinforced behaviour will likely be repeated.


Following practices steps are identified to be useful in organisational change model:

3.1 Unfreeze (Satge-1)

- Determine what needs to change.
- Survey the organisation to understand the current state.
- Understand why change has to take place.
- Ensure there is strong support from senior management.
- Use stakeholder analysis and stakeholder management to identify and win the support
- Frame the issue as one of organisation-wide importance.
- Create the need for change.
- Create a compelling message about why change has to occur.
- Use your vision and strategy as supporting evidence.
- Communicate the vision in terms of the change required.
- Emphasize the "why."
- Manage and understand the doubts and concerns.
- Remain open to employee concerns and address them in terms of the need to change.

3.2 Change/ Movement/ Transition (Satge-2)

- Communicate often.
- Do so throughout the planning and implementation of the changes.
- Describe the benefits.
- Explain exactly how the changes will affect everyone.
- Prepare everyone for what is coming.
- Dispel rumours.
- Answer questions openly and honestly.
- Deal with problems immediately.
- Relate the need for change back to operational necessities.
- Empower action.
- Provide lots of opportunity for employee involvement.
- Have line managers provide day-to-day direction.
- Involve people in the process.
- Generate short-term wins to reinforce the change.
- Negotiate with external stakeholders as necessary (such as employee organisations).

3.3 Freeze or Refreeze

- Anchor the changes into the culture.
- Identity what supports the change.
- Identify barriers to sustaining change.
- Develop ways to sustain the change.
- Ensure leadership support.
- Create a reward system.
- Establish feedback systems.
- Adapt the organisational structure as necessary.
- Provide support and training.
- Keep everyone informed and supported.
- Celebrate success.


Based on my detailed literature review, in-class discussions and related books reading; in my view Kurt’s actually meant the final stage of change model ‘freezing’ as ‘refreezing’ to symbolize the change reinforcement, stabilisation and solidification into the new organisational norm after the change implementation. As aforementioned that such changes either revolutionary or evolutionary can be made to personal thinking (to remove existing resistive barriers), existing paradigm, organisational processes, goals, structure, products and offerings which need to be refrozen. Refreezing component is vital for change cementation into the new organisational norm to ensure efforts made are not wasted and people are not reverting back to the original state prior change made.

Only with refreezing phase of new changes, organisations can be stabilized and institutionalized in a new state after the movement stage therefore, institutional and influential roles of leaders, managers and change supervisor are enormously significant. Some people and critics argue that the refreezing step is outdated in modern business practices due to the continuous need for change, reforms and innovation in the fast paced competitive environment. They consider it unnecessary to spend or waste time in the freezing process a new state when obvious chances are that it will need to be re-evaluated and possibly changed again in the immediate future. However, as stated earlier that without the refreezing step, there are high chances that people, employees and even personal behaviours will revert back to the old practices and old thinking boundaries. Taking one step forward and two steps back can be a common exercise when organisations overlook the vital refreezing step in anticipation of future changes and reforms. Further, refreezing phase must be flexible enough to allow people sharing ideas about innovation and intrapreneurial reforms; and encourage them to think outside box.


- Class lectures

- Units presentation slides

- https://rapidbi.com/kurt-lewin-three-step-change-theory/

- http://www.change-management-coach.com/kurt_lewin.html

- https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newPPM_94.htm

- Lewin's 3-Stage Model of Change: Unfreezing, Changing & Refreezing by Sherri Hartzell

- Applying Lewin’s Change Model in the Development of a Learning Organisation by Yu-Lin Wang, Ph. D and Andrea D. Ellinger, Ph.D.

- David.M. 2006,’Managing Inovation and Change, Edn. 3rd, p.120 Sage Publication Ltd. London,

- Dunphy, D.C., & Stace, D.A. (1992). Under new management: Australian organisations in transition. Sydney: McGraw-Hill.

- Burnes, B 2004, ‘Kurt Lewin and the Planned Approach to Change: A Re-appraisal’, Journal of Management Studies, 41:6, pp. 985-986


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should organisations follow lewin classical change prescription refreeze moving stage



Title: Should Organisations Follow Lewin's Classical Change Prescription to 'Refreeze' after the 'Moving' Stage?