How we change what others think, feel, believe and do
Lewin's freeze phases
In the early 20th century, psychologist Kurt Lewin identified three stages of change that are still the basis of many approaches today.
A basic tendency of people is to seek a context in which they have relative safety and feel a sense of control. In establishing themselves, they attach their sense of identity to their environment. This creates a comfortable stasis from which any alternatives, even those which may offer significant benefit, will cause discomfort.
Talking about the future thus is seldom enough to move them from this 'frozen' state and significant effort may be required to 'unfreeze' them and get them moving. This usually requires Push methods to get them moving, after which Pull methods can be used to keep them going.
The term 'change ready' is often used to describe people who are unfrozen and ready to take the next step. Some people come ready for change whilst others take a long time to let go of their comfortable current realities.
See also: Unfreezing techniques
A key part of Lewin's model is the notion that change, even at the psychological level, is a journey rather than a simple step. This journey may not be that simple and the person may need to go through several stages of misunderstanding before they get to the other side.
A classic trap in change is for the leaders to spend months on their own personal journeys and then expect everyone else to cross the chasm in a single bound.
Transitioning thus requires time. Leadership is often important and when whole organizations change, the one-eyed person may be king. Some form of coaching, counseling or other psychological support will often be very helpful also.
Although transition may be hard for the individual, often the hardest part is to start. Even when a person is unfrozen and ready for change, that first step can be very scary.
Transition can also be a pleasant trap and, as Robert Louis Stephenson said, 'It is better to travel hopefully than arrive.' People become comfortable in temporary situations where they are not accountable for the hazards of normal work and where talking about change may be substituted for real action.
See also: Transitioning techniques
At the other end of the journey, the final goal is to 'refreeze', putting down roots again and establishing the new place of stability.
In practice, refreezing may be a slow process as transitions seldom stop cleanly, but go more in fits and starts with a long tail of bits and pieces. There are good and bad things about this.
In modern organizations, this stage is often rather tentative as the next change may well be around the next corner. What is often encouraged, then, is more of a state of 'slushiness' where freezing is never really achieved (theoretically making the next unfreezing easier). The danger with this that many organizations have found is that people fall into a state of change shock, where they work at a low level of efficiency and effectiveness as they await the next change. 'It's not worth it' is a common phrase when asked to improve what they do.
See also: Refreezing techniques