Change management is a complex and lengthy process. Anybody who says otherwise probably hasn’t tried to manage change. It is generally agreed that enduring change takes at least three years to implement – a lot longer than most of us plan for. But there’s a good argument for doing it the right way and taking the right time, because more often than not, the change will last.
Academia has given us many versions of the change management model, but one of the oldest, and in my experience most effective, is Lewin’s model of change. This is ultra-simple (something which I always focus on with our clients), but also very nuanced and effective. The model has three stages:
It sounds like I’m talking about ice cubes for a scotch on the rocks, but I’m not. Instead these three stages reflect the fact that organisations tend to settle into a pattern of behaviour that reflects their internal and external environment. We are humans and we intrinsically hate change, so we find a pattern and get comfortable in that pattern. The problem is, that is where we stay. Lewin’s model gives us a way to manage change within our own boundaries of comfort – which makes us likelier to succeed at it.
Let’s unpack the stages…
Here we identify reasons for change, and address the impact on all the stakeholders, mapping out their role and also their safeguards. This is an opportunity to streamline the planning, to get everybody to contribute and build understanding of why the change is needed, plus inspire them with what the new world might look like. It is really important at this time for leaders to address concerns and objections; to identify and enlist champions; and to envision the new organisation.
This is the time when we put our change plans into action. The old maxim is that no battle plan survives first contact with the enemy – and so it usually is with change! This is where leaders need to be ever present, listening, shaping, nurturing and facilitating. Pick and highlight some early wins. Listen to the naysayers and address their concerns. Monitor progress carefully and be ready to adjust plans if real issues appear.
This is the most critical, and usually most poorly addressed, phase. Leaders have been busy with the change process, implementation and shaping people’s expectations. Now they have implemented things and they are ready to move on to their next sexy project. But in reality, this is the time to focus on the change process even more closely. Change might have been implemented, but unless it is managed and nurtured, being creatures of habit, people tend to slip back into their comfortable pattern. So, this means leaders need to focus even more closely on celebrating wins to date, highlighting and supporting their key supporters and the advantages achieved from the change process. Provide lots of training to help people become comfortable with the new order; embed new ways as part of the culture by harnessing reward and feedback systems; celebrate the successes.
Unless all three of the stages are planned for and given the appropriate consideration, investment and time, change management is all too likely to fail. We live in an era where change is inevitable and often, it needs to be fast paced, but having a change management framework can make it easier to manage, give your organisation faster adoption and propel you into the future.
If you are interested in finding out more detailed information about Lewins Theory, or would like a comprehensive set of steps to managing change in your organisation, please get in touch with us.