Lewin’s Change Management Model vs Kotter’s 8-Step Model

By: Together Abroad 06-03-2017

Categories:** HR Change Management,
Organizational change is part and parcel of any organization. The adoption of new business practices, or promising new technology, represents examples of changes that occur all the time. Those involved in what is known as OD (organizational development) will know how much resistance they can face when they try to get people to adopt promising new technology, or new decision making processes. Models exists that help to clarify the steps that can be taken to minimise the task of change management. Two of the most common include Lewin’s 3-step model, and Kotter’s 8-step model, which will be discussed below. Both models attempt to address the question: “How does successful change happen?”.

Lewin’s model is deceptively simple, as it involves only 3 steps. These are known as ‘unfreeze’, ‘transition’, and ‘freeze’. The first step is about trying to lessen the forces involved in maintaining the status quo, and changing the current institutional attitude. The status quo can be considered the equilibrium position, which naturally wants to keep things as they are. Unfreezing can be achieved by, for instance, increasing the forces that drive behaviour and attitudes away from the status quo. This can be done by making people realise the need for change, and building trust. The second step involves developing new behaviours, values and attitudes. This can be accomplished via changes to organizational structure or development techniques. One method that can be used is to convince both individuals and groups that the status quo is not beneficial, and they need to see the problem from a fresh perspective. The final step is concerned with the crystallising of the new state of affairs, after the change has been made. The organization may revert back to the old ways of doing things unless the changes are reinforced, through freezing.

On the other hand we have Kotter’s 8-step change model (Robbins p586). Comparatively more complex, it encourages employees to accept the need for change after being convinced of the urgency by leaders. The steps are briefly as follows:
Create urgency:This motivates employees and inspires necessary teamwork.
Form a powerful coalition:Select and recruit the individuals who are capable of carrying out the change.
Create a vision for change:This step involves determining the values central to change, and then creating a strategy to fulfil the vision you have outlined.
Communicate your vision:Your message will have to compete with other day-to-day communications within the company, so it’s good to make sure it’s top of the agenda.
Remove obstacles:This frees up those who are in favour of the change.
Create short-term wins: As a motivator for success, winning is top of the list. Create some short-term goals thathelps further your vision for change, and can be accomplished relatively quickly.
Build on the change: Kotter argues that many change projects fail because victory is declared to early. Keep the momentum going by continually reassessing what went right and what still needs improving.
And finally, anchor the change in the corporate culture.

As with using any conceptual model, there are pros and cons. Lewin’s model, for example, illustrates the effects of forces that either help or hinder change. The model helps to visualise the strength of opposing forces that can influence your idea for change, and to determine when the forces helping to further change are greater than those which oppose it. However, the model fails to take into account the human factor. In addition, an effective analysis of forces requires full participation of all employees, which is often not always available. But it remains an effective and popular model for change management, and has numerous success stories, including that of Continental Airlines.

Kotter’s model is more in depth, which works to its advantage in that it provides clear steps that can give guidance for the change process. However, it’s rigidity of method means that steps cannot be skipped, and furthermore the process can take quite some time to accomplish.

Both models offer excellent insights into how successful change management happens. If both are used in tandem, it can help to offset the inherent weakness of either one individually. An example of this is the training company Velopi. They took Kotter’s model and used it to flesh out more detail in the steps given by Lewin. When it comes to change management, you can either adopt a rigid approach of many detailed steps, or opt for simplicity. In the former case, Kotter’s model is more suited, and in the latter, it is better to use Lewin’s model.

Adam Watson

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