Overcoming Resistance to Change: Lewin’s Model as a Best Practice

“The single biggest way to impact an organization is to focus on leadership development. There is almost no limit to the potential of an organization that recruits good people, raises them up as leaders and continually develops them.”-John Maxwell

The challenging aspect of leading organizational change is to overcome resistance. People and groups of all types resist change. As a psychologist, Kurt Lewin understood human behavior and designed a model for organizational change aimed at minimizing resistance. Kurt Lewin believed that while undergoing organizational change there are two opposing forces that are in conflict. These forces are the employees who want change to occur and those who don`t. Lewin’s model of organizational change consists of three distinct phases of unfreezing, moving, and refreezing that aim to minimize resistance and reinforce the behavior necessary for lasting change. In the unfreezing stage, the goal is to minimize the forces that want to keep change from occurring. In the moving stage, the goal is to introduce the new direction which is accomplished by changing the culture, structure and systems to support the new direction. In the refreezing stage, the new behavior needs to be reinforced to facilitate lasting change (Schultz, 2010).

GE provides an example of a world class organization that successfully maneuvered the change process utilizing Lewin’s Theory. To unfreeze and move G.E. in a new direction, the structure was flattened and power dynamics redistributed (Hill, 2011).Employees at the bottom of the organizational hierarchy were empowered. According to Bateman and Snell (2007), ” An empowering work environment provides people with information necessary to perform at their best, knowledge about how to use the information…, power to make decisions that give them control over their work,  and the rewards they deserve for the contributions they make” (p. 444).  GE illustrates how HR can help facilitate and maintain lasting change by improving the appraisal and reward system to reinforce the new behaviors. As Jack Welch himself summarized,” what you reward is what you get“(Welch, 2003).Additionally, HR can redesign its processes of recruiting, selection, and training to maintain the new order. To illustrate, GE incorporates behavior skills interviewing in its selection process to ensure that recruits of the highest caliber are hired. Once hired, employees undertake a training program that helps them internalize the GE culture.GE leaders continuously communicate to staff how the organizations’ five growth traits of imagination, clear thinking, inclusiveness, external focus, and domain are linked to the business objectives.GE measures performance by rating employees on each of these five traits and on the qualities of imagine, solve, build, and lead (Knudson, 2013).
Bateman, T. S., & Snell, S .A. (2007). Management: Leading and Collaborating in a Competitive World (7th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill/Irwin.
Hill, C. (2011). International business: Competing in a global environment. New York: McGraw-Hill/Irwin
Knudson, L. (2013). Generating leaders ge style .HR Management, 4, 1-4. Retrieved from http://www.hrmreport.com/article/Generating-leaders-GE-
Schultz, John R (2011). Making it all work: a pocket guide to sustain improvement and anchor change. Retrieved from http://xk3zd8en7c.search.serialssolutions.com
Welch, J. (2003). Jack: straight from the gut. New York: Business Plus



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