Kurt Lewin’s Change Theory in Organization

Change is an inherent part of the existence of every individual, company, or society, especially under pressing circumstances. Change management is an umbrella term for a variety of approaches developed by different scientists and researchers and dedicated to facilitating the change process in any organization. Change theories seek to help describe the process of transitioning from the current state to the desired one by analyzing the methods, procedures, and structures that organizations employ to do it. There are many effective frameworks that grant a valuable insight into the change process, but most notable among them is Kurt Lewin’s Change Theory. One of the first to be presented to the public, namely in the 1940s, it still remains relevant today. It follows a simple 3-step process of unfreezing, moving (changing), and freezing (refreezing), which, according to Lewin, is characteristic of any organizational change.

Kurt Lewin came to the United States from Germany in 1933, having witnessed social discrimination in both countries, he set out to develop a change theory that could be applied to eradicating social injustice. Over the course of his career, Lewin managed to create an approach that included different theories and models that could contribute to a positive change in society. Besides the Change Theory, another important work of Lewin’s is his Field Theory, which helps define the existing forces that support or counteract changes. Lewin viewed existing organizational behavior as a quasi-stationary equilibrium that is influenced by restraining forces and change drivers. According to Roşca (2020), “different types of forces will act upon the situation and motivate or demotivate change” (p. 618). Understanding the factors that affect the current status quo is essential for every attempt to bring change to an existing situation and is extremely important for every stage of the Change Theory.

Unfreezing is the first step in Lewin’s theory, and its importance can be explained by the necessity to decrease the restraining forces or increase the driving ones to initiate the change. Lewin stated that the equilibrium must become unfrozen, or upset, in order for a change to happen, so that the old rules of conduct or practices could be successfully replaced by the new ones. Lewin believed that every change must have a valid motivation, and the people influenced by this change have to adapt, implement the new practices in their routine and discard the old ones (Galli, 2018). Thus, during the unfreezing stage, it is crucial to create an environment that would be conducive to change, the one that would ensure the willingness of all parties concerned to begin the transition. Individuals affected by the change must understand fully all the implications of the change process and have a clear intention to go along with it, hence effective communication is necessary at this stage.

Lewin insisted that change constituted a process rather than an event, so after people become “unfrozen,” they begin to move in a new direction towards the desired state. The stage of change is often considered the most important as it implies actually rejecting the old practices and embracing the new ones. Thus, it is essential to allocate a considerable amount of time for people to get accustomed to the new circumstances. The change phase will inevitably meet resistance from the people affected by it, and some occasional issues may arise because of this. For example, in a corporate setting, the employer may provide necessary training, courses, and guidelines for the employees to follow, this will facilitate the transition process (Galli, 2018). At this stage, supporting the people affected by the change procedure and encouraging them to follow the new rules of conduct are the keys to success.

Last but not least, the refreezing stage is meant to make the new rules stick and make them the new status-quo. The importance of this phrase lies in the fact that if not reinforced, the new situation may be rejected by the people who will choose to go back to the old practices. The change must be adopted as a habit and become permanent, according to Levasseur, throughout this stage, the agents of change must take measures to maintain the new system (as cited in Galli, 2018, p. 126). Once the change becomes a new norm, it is important to “freeze” and solidify it so that it can fully unleash its positive effect.

Lewin’s Change Theory, despite being created in the 1940s, remains viable to this day and can still be successfully applied to various situations. Although taking into consideration the pace at which the modern world is moving, it may need certain alterations. Modern companies no longer can afford to spend a lot of time introducing, adopting, and solidifying changes, Lewin’s approach may be “too simple or mechanistic for modern environments” (Cummings et al., 2016, p. 38). Instead, a more reasonable strategy for them would be to continuously reinvent themselves, adjusting to circumstances that are constantly changing. Thus, the process of “unfreezing” may be excessive because it requires much time, while contemporary business strategies imply that companies have to learn new practices and adapt almost on a daily basis.

Practically the same can be said about Saudi Arabia’s business environment since, nowadays, the country is going through a major change laid out by Saudi Vision 2030. This indicates the fact that the country is following the global trend of being flexible and adjusting to new circumstances. The government has a significant capacity to leverage both political and economic situations, this, combined with considerable financial resources, allows it to initiate any change and allocate large periods of time for it. Applying Lewin’s theory to Saudi Arabia, it is important to alter it slightly and emphasize the importance of leadership in bringing about change, rather than the change process itself. The political will of the Saudi government is an extremely valuable factor when it comes to starting large transitions and should be properly considered.

The discipline of change management is among the most important ones since it helps analyze, arrange, and implement different changes in different areas, ranging from corporate to societal. A large variety of theories that have been developed to facilitate the process of change indicates that this discipline is extremely relevant in modern circumstances. Such theories allow creating a path that would lead to the successful adoption of new approaches, practices, and rules of conduct. One of the most notable theories belongs to Kurt Lewin, who introduced a series of simple steps involved in any change process, these include unfreezing, change, and freezing (or refreezing). Despite being published in the 1940s, it continues to stay relevant today, but due to the modern, fast-paced business environment, its first stage can often be neglected. Saudi Arabia’s situation can also be analyzed with the use of Lewin’s theory, although the government’s exceptional role in political and economic life must be considered when it comes to introducing significant changes.

References

Cummings, S., Bridgman, T., & Brown K. G. (2016). Unfreezing change as three steps: Rethinking Kurt Lewin’s legacy for change management. Human Relations, 69(1), 33-60. Web.

Galli, B. J. (2018). Change management models: A comparative analysis and concerns. IEEE Engineering Management Review, 46(3), 124-132. Web.

Roşca, V. I. (Ed.). (2020). Proceedings of the International Conference on Business Excellence. Sciendo. Web.

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