Undoubtedly, Kurt Lewin was the man who gave rise to the scientific study of change implementation. Lewin was a psychologist who, in the aftermath of the World War II, published two path-breaking essays "Frontiers in Group Dynamics" and "Behavior and Development as a Function of the Total Situation" which became the source of two main insights which to date shape the understanding of how to adjust patterns of behavior and create room for change. The first insight was the decisive and crucial role that context plays in shaping the behavior of an individual, and second was the fact that the easiest way to motivate an individual to change a pattern of behavior is through creating dissatisfaction with the status quo thus creating the need for a shift (Spector, 2013). However, although Lewin's model was simple and easy for understanding change process and has continued to inform current theories of effective change implementation, some alterations such as removal of unfreezing stage are necessary to ensure it remains relevant in today's business environment.
Rationale and the Intended Role for Lewin's Change Implementation Theory
As noted earlier, Lewin's theory was informed by the fact that for a change to occur, behaviors had to change. Lewin reasoned that change would occur as a result of the behavioral adjustment, and to make alterations to people's behaviors, the context played a pivotal role. Lewin came up with a formula (behavior is a function of the person herself and the environmental context in which that individual operates) which illustrated that for change to occur, a context that alters the norms of the people and encourages new patterns of behavior is required (Spector, 2013). Also, Lewin observed that employees will always cling to the status quo and any manager proposing change experiences complacency (Spector, 2013). Thus, another reason for his theory was to explain the importance of breaking the status quo through creating dissatisfaction with the current state of affairs to motivate the employees to seek for a new equilibrium (change). Therefore, the intended purpose of Lewin's theory was to illustrate that the change process involves creating a perception that a change is needed, then shifting to the new desired level of behavior and solidifying the behaviors in that level as the new norms.
Lewin's Three Stages of Change
Having recognized the high degree of complacency a manager would experience in trying to exert forces of change on employees and organizations, Lewin argued that a deliberate and a powerful "emotional stir-up" process would be required to "open the shell of complacency" and "unfreeze" or break the status quo. Thus, the first step in implementing change would be unfreezing. Resistance to change is obvious and the best way to avoid that is not to lecture employees on the need for change; instead, involve them in the diagnostic process to allow them to learn the imminent change, the logic behind it and how it will benefit them and the organization (Spector, 2013). This would make them feel that a change is necessary and urgent, thus motivating them to embrace. Otherwise, employees will always be skeptical to change as they may view it as a new way that the management wants to oppress them (Avey, Wernsing & Luthans, 2008).
The second step is moving. The members of the organization move from one set of behaviors to another (Spector, 2013). In other words, this is the actual change where employees are moving from the current status quo to a new desired level of behaviors (new equilibrium) and are facilitated through redesigning organizational roles, responsibilities, and relationships as well as training for newly acquired skills (Spector, 2013). Once the members of the group have moved to the new level of behaviors, Lewin argues that the last step of the change model should then be refreezing (Spector, 2013). This is where the newly acquired equilibrium is protected against change. It involves aligning systems and structures with the new behaviors to reinforce and uphold them (Spector, 2013).
Modifying Lewin's Theory to Make It Relevant and Applicable Within the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia is a unique country whereby organizational change and development is largely influenced by the Islam religion. Islam religion is important in this country because it is where the holiest places of Mecca and Medina are located (Ali, 2009). It is, therefore, a traditional society where religious sayings and instructions are integral ingredients of daily life rather than technology and economic revolution (Ali, 2009).
In such a country, a theory of managing change would remain relevant and applicable if it aligns with the cultural values proposed by the dominant religion. Its implication in modifying Lewin's theory comes into force during the third step whereby after having established new behaviors a reward and measurement control systems have to be introduced to protect the achieved change. In the Saudi Arabian context, where people are strongly guided by culture and religion, the reward and control measurement systems should be scrapped and instead ensure that the new behaviors are guided by cultural and religious beliefs. This is because a culture does not lend to measurement and is conveyed through traditions and customs such as those relayed through religion (Alvesson & Sveningsson, 2015). Rewards would not influence people's cultures and they would not be relevant in sustaining change in a situation where people are strongly religious. Thus using religion and culture to sustain the new behaviors and promote them would be viable.
Changes to Be Made to Lewin's Theory to Reflect Today's Business Environment Globally and Within the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
As early as the year 2000, scholars had begun to recognize the fact that organizations needed to rapidly and even brutally transform if they were to cope up with the highly dynamic business environment (Burnes, 2004). The relatively slow, linear, consensual and group-based nature of Lewin's change model would not meet the rapid changes that a business needs to make to survive in today's environment. Therefore, the first change to make to the model is to always create organizational contexts that encourage risk-taking behaviors and allow change to occur naturally and continuously without having to follow the three steps each time to facilitate desired change. The second change should be on the third step of refreezing. This step should be scrapped off from the model because there is no need for protecting a set of new behaviors which would soon be obsolete a totally new set required to cope up with the ever-changing business environment. Instead, the management should create conditions that promote continuous behavior improvement through rewards but not to reward individuals to repeat certain behaviors.
Undeniably, Lewin's change model which pegged attention on both the requirement to create disequilibrium to motivate behavioral change and the impact of context on behaviors has continued to inform current theories of implementing organizational change. Nonetheless, some changes are needed to adapt this model to changing business environments and different cultures of the world. The model needs to be flexible to allow change occurs as a natural process and thus the refreezing part should be removed when implementing change.
Ali, A. (2009). Business and management environment in Saudi Arabia: challenges and opportunities for multinational corporations. Routledge.
Alvesson, M., & Sveningsson, S. (2015). Changing organizational culture: Cultural change work in progress. Routledge.
Avey, J. B., Wernsing, T. S., & Luthans, F. (2008). Can positive employees help positive organizational change? Impact of psychological capital and emotions on relevant attitudes and behaviors. The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 44(1), 48-70.
Burnes, B. (2004). Kurt Lewin and complexity theories: back to the future?. Journal of Change Management, 4(4), 309-325.
Spector, B. (2013). Implementing organizational change (third edition): Theory into practice. Pearson.
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