The Traditional Model of Change

Traditional thinking has it that in order to make change happen and then ensure it becomes fixed in place you need to do three things:

  1.    Unfreeze the organisation – from its present state.
  2.    Make the changes required
  3.    Refreeze – so that the change is locked in.

It sounds pretty simple when looked at like that. However that does mean you should understand what is involved at each of those stages. In fact there are more than three steps to consider.

The method involves preparing teams for change, making changes, and finally integrating and normalising those changes within the organisation.

The name of the Unfreeze, Change, Refreeze model comes from the idea of an ice block that needs to be transformed into a new shape. The ice block cannot be forced into the new shape without breaking. Instead, it must be melted (Unfreeze), poured into a mould (Change) and frozen again in the new shape (Refreeze). This is actually sometimes referred to as the Kurt Lewin Change Management Model. He was a physicist and social psychologist, and it was his background in physics that inspired the metaphor way back in 1952.

Step 1 – Preparing the Ground

Nobody in their right mind just unfreezes an organisation (structure or processes) without having done some thinking and planning. It would be rather like suddenly switching off all the traffic lights in a city – chaos would ensue.

So what SHOULD you do first?

In my view it’s pretty straightforward. Go through the analysis as to why you want to change things and from that the whole process of solution design and planning. In the course of that you should address what it is that needs unfreezing. Maybe it will be culture. Perhaps it will be processes and reporting.

Whatever the answers are – then the preparation should also cover working out HOW you are going to do this. So this whole unfreezing thing needs to be completely thought through before you start on it.

The preparation shouldn’t just get you to the start line. The overall plans should include how you intend to refreeze once the big change(s) have taken place. Otherwise, to use a slightly different metaphor, there’s going to be melted mess all over the floor.

It is illustrated here, where the current state is A and the desired state is B

Step 2 – Unfreezing

Unfreezing is usually a fairly rapid activity. Not like leaving a large block of ice to slowly thaw out. The reason is quite simple, it sets people on a path of change by knocking them slightly off-balance so that resistance doesn’t get chance to take hold.

In some ways you can liken this to martial arts like judo where, in order to overcome an opponent, you first have to throw them off-balance. Your preparation should have identified likely barriers or areas of resistance before you get going.

This Unfreezing stage is where we create momentum for change by shifting the balance of driving and restraining forces. Identify the senior stakeholders in the change project. Invest time and effort to understand their views and perspectives on the ‘current state’. You should also pay particular attention to any gaps in knowledge and awareness (the barriers). Address these gaps and use the insights gained in doing so to develop a compelling business case.

It’s all pretty logical but preparation is, as ever, the key.

Step 3 – Executing Change Activity

Once the decision has been made that change is needed, a change management strategy has to be communicated throughout the organisation to prepare stakeholders for the change. This is the stage where we make planned interventions to shift from the current state (A).

There’s no overarching rule here other than to make it manageable in terms of scale. Sometimes you won’t have a choice, for example moving an entire operation to a new factory might only be feasible in a single move. Other transformations might possibly be phased. It all depends on the context.

Step 4 – Refreezing

This is where we consolidate change. It is ‘anchoring’ the transformational change in the organisation, building on what’s been achieved and preventing regression to the old ways of working. This is where change ambassadors will come very much to the fore, with continued advocating for the adoption of the new.

Step 5 – Rinse & Repeat

Actually most change is like a ratchet. Major moves forward, followed by a pause for things to sink in and for people to adjust. However it’s likely that an organisation that is embarked on major transformation isn’t going to do it all in one hit.

Instead the activities should be phased – this is something that will have come out of the planning. That way you can avoid transformation overload for the people and stakeholders.

So, to sum up, in most cases it’s going to be a 5-stage process:

  1.    Preparation
  2.    Unfreezing
  3.    Change Happens
  4.    Refreezing
  5.    Repeat (as necessary)

Planning Your Own Steps?

How big is your planned transformation? Are you confident that the phasing is going to work? These and similar questions are on many people’s lips at this point. So who will you turn to for some thoughtful guidance? We’re more than happy to have a conversation and, if you’d like more really useful information, then you can also follow this link.

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