Understanding the Lewin & Kotter models of change management

Change Management

Understanding the Lewin & Kotter models of change management

Change has always been an inevitable part of business. However, as a result of rapid technological developments and an evolving social climate, industry-wide changes are now happening more and more frequently.

Because of this, it’s essential that organisations are equipped to handle both small and large-scale changes on a regular basis.

If you’ve ever been responsible for implementing changes at your workplace, you would know that transitional periods aren’t always easy to handle. To effectively make changes, you have to manage multiple departments, deal with employee resistance, and solve a whole lot of logistical problems. Regardless of where you are in the chain of command, dealing with all of this can be quite stressful.

To make sure that you don’t break under this kind of pressure, it’s important to learn the principles of change management.

In this blog, we’re going to take a deep dive into the world of change management. We’ll talk about what it is, what its basic principles are, and how you can improve on it. In addition, we’ll talk about the benefits of change management as well as the consequences of poor change implementation.

Please note that we will mainly be discussing this topic within the context of business. That said, the following discussion should still be relevant to other organisations like sports teams, local government bodies, cultural groups, and so on.

What is change management?

Change management is a system that encompasses all theories, methods, processes and principles that help employees and leaders implement workplace changes. Its purpose is to ensure that organisational changes are applied smoothly and to make sure that they produce positive and productive results for the company.

Most change management methods borrow ideas from different fields like psychology, engineering, IT, behavioural science, and cultural studies. As a result of this, there are many different change management models, each specifically designed to suit a particular industry.

That being said, there is a core idea that remains consistent across these different methods: to address the main obstacles of organisational change and guide the workers through it in an efficient manner.

Proper change management also ensures that all parties involved are on the same page and are given the support that they need to succeed in a new system.

In contrast, poor change management (or lack thereof) can lead to various issues at both the employee and company level.

Here are some of the potential consequences of poor change management:

  • Project delays
  • Budget overruns
  • Poor quality of work
  • Decline in productivity
  • Loss of valuable employees

In addition, according to a 2017 survey from the American Psychological Association, workers going through organisational changes were twice as likely to experience chronic work stress compared to workers that weren’t going through workplace changes.

To help your company through such a challenging time, you need to gain a solid understanding of basic change management principles and learn to apply them properly.

The Lewin and Kotter models

Two of the most popular change management methods are Kurt Lewin’s Change Management Model and John Kotter’s 8-Step Change Model.

Lewin’s three-step model focuses on the concept of ‘unfreezing’ old workplace habits, introducing the necessary changes, and then ‘freezing’ these new habits in place.

Kotter’s method has similar concepts to Lewin’s except it addresses some of the challenges in between those three main steps. These include putting together a strategy for change implementation, communicating this strategy to the employees, and setting short-term goals.

The change management process

To keep things simple, we’re going to discuss the main steps of the change management process based on a synthesis of the ideas of Lewin and Kotter.

As we go through each step in this method, we will point out some of its similarities to Lewin and Kotter’s models. We will also expand on each step, including some important ideas that were omitted in the original article.

  • Unfreeze and prepare the company for change 

Before any adjustments can be made, you need to make sure that your organisation is mentally and culturally prepared for upcoming changes. In Lewin’s model, this is called the unfreezing step. This is the step in which you help your employees let go of old habits and prepare them to accept a new system.

To do this, you need to explain to your team how the old system is hindering the company’s progression and how changes must be made for the betterment of the organisation.

According to Kotter, you also need to create a sense of urgency within the company to motivate the employees to embrace change. You can do this by communicating the risks of maintaining an obsolete system and/or identifying the potential rewards of making changes.

If you neglect to unfreeze employees from established methods and systems, you could be met with a lot of resistance. Not only can this delay the change implementation process, but it can also adversely affect the effectiveness of the changes in the long run. 

  • Have a goal and a plan

According to Kotter, to implement changes effectively, you need a specific vision for your organisation’s future. You also need a clear plan on how you’re going to achieve that future.

For example, when Netflix found itself competing with Amazon, Disney, and Apple for existing IPs, they realised that they needed a new way to stand out. Sticking to their company values, Netflix didn’t want to go head-to-head with these larger multi-media companies for shows and movies that they did not own.

As a result, in 2013, Netflix’s CEO released a memo to the employees explicitly stating that the company isn’t planning to compete with bigger tech companies. The memo set a goal of turning Netflix into a passion brand rather than another large media distributor. Based on this, Netflix planned to create more original content of their own.

As a result of this strategy, Netflix’s profits increased 32-fold after releasing this memo and making the necessary changes.

  • Be vigilant while implementing the changes

While you’re implementing changes, you need to stay vigilant. You need to be constantly identifying obstacles to change as well as remedying all the faults in your original implementation plan.

You also need to provide your co-workers with the support that they need during this challenging period. It’s important to actively communicate with your team and find out what they’re struggling with.

If you’re encountering employees that are actively resisting change, make sure to talk to them and see how you can help them succeed in the new system. You can offer them additional training or perhaps you can agree on a compromise.

  • Freeze the newly implemented changes within the company

Without the proper guidance and support, a company can easily slide back into the old ways of doing things. According to Lewin, once you’ve implemented the new changes, you need to make sure that you refreeze the new system and make it the status quo.

There are a few ways to do this:

  • Talk to your team about the positive outcomes that the changes have produced
  • Recognise the efforts of the employees and the leaders that helped implement the changes
  • Make sure to properly communicate the company’s values and new processes to new employees

It’s incredibly important to celebrate short-term successes with your team. This reinforces the idea that the changes are working and are here to stay.

  • Review the changes 

Once everything is done, you need to reflect on the changes that you’ve made and how you went about the implementation process

What part of the implementation plan was successful? What kind of obstacles did you encounter during the process and how can you avoid them in the future? Did you achieve the goals that you set out to achieve at the beginning? Reflecting on these questions can help you improve your change management skills.

It’s also important that you talk to your team about the changes. Do they think the changes were beneficial? Did they find the transitional period stressful? Finding out how your team felt about the process can help you make a better strategy the next time you need to make changes.

Change management training 

If you’re looking to improve your ability to navigate organisational changes, you should consider investing in change management training.

Change management workshops and courses will help you acquire the skills necessary to lead change initiatives at an employee, departmental or organisational level. These programs are designed to help you gain an understanding of different change management models and give you the ability to choose the framework that best suits your field.

Each change management program is going to be slightly different. However, there are a few core learning outcomes that most of them share.

By taking a change management course, you can learn how to:

  • Communicate to your team the necessity of organisational changes
  • Develop an implementation plan for different teams and the company as a whole
  • Manage employee resistance and other obstacles to change
  • Compose a leadership team that can help you implement changes
  • Develop a constructive feedback loop for further improvement

Most courses will also touch on the psychology behind how we react to change and what motivates us to embrace new systems and processes.

If you’re ready to take your organisation to the next level, sign up for a change management course today.

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