Change Management—"What's in it for me?"

Why is it that many well intended change initiatives fail to get support and buy in from those impacted? It is our experience, that sadly, well intended initiatives are often compromised because people resist change.

What is it that helps truly engage with those impacted by change? A few years ago I studied change management and found the following theory really insightful.

I have briefly summarised below Edgar Schien’s (2004) 3 Stage Model for Organisational Change (taken from his interpretation and expansion of Kurt Lewin’s (1947) work). I regularly refer the basic principles in day to day project management situations:

The theory goes that change can be thought of as consisting of 3 phases: Unfreezing, Changing and Refreezing. Many change initiatives focus on the ‘Changing’ element only and we know how the majority of those end up…

Unfreezing – 3 elements are necessary to enable sustainable change to begin:

  1. Disconfirming Information – shows that the organisation is truly falling short of expectations (e.g. KPIs and Benchmarking)
  2. Anxiety and/or Guilt – recipient feels some level of responsibility for the Disconfirming Information and theory also suggests people need to recognise the threat of doing nothing
  3. Psychological Safety – People are anxious of change and whether they can adapt; support staff with a positive and compelling vision, training (and support), positive role models, and COMMUNICATION!

Changing – change what needs to be changed. It is necessary to identify and communicate exactly what needs to be changed and how this will impact the Disconfirming Information.

Refreezing – Schein splits into 2 phases:

  1. Primary Embedding Mechanisms – Much emphasis is placed in the organisational leadership at this time: what do Leaders pay attention to, how do they react to progress and issues, how resources are allocated, what behaviour is recognised, who is promoted or excommunicated. Is this consistent with the vision?
  2. Secondary Embedding Mechanisms – Organisational design and structure: systems and processes, rites and rituals, and stories about important events and people.

There are libraries full of organisational change theory but I personally find this 3 Stage Model succinct and helpful. We hope this information is useful and goes some way towards demystifying organisational change.

The full works can be found at: Schein, E., 2004. Organisational Culture and Leadership (3rd Edition), San Francisco: Jossey Bass