Unfreezing: A Simple Starting Place for Kicking Off Organizational Change - Part 2

In our first blog post on Unfreezing, we reviewed Kurt Lewin’s 3-Step model for change, which involves the three main steps of Unfreezing, Moving, and Refreezing. 2,3 We also highlighted three key processes needed to prepare an organization to change: 4

  • Challenging or breaking down belief or reliance on the status quo

  • Inciting the motivation to change

  • Creating an environment of psychological safety to support the change

Finally, we introduced a simple, tangible starting place for Unfreezing, by level setting with a team of individuals that would drive the change. That starting place included the following activities:

 
 

In this article, we will briefly explore the steps above.

Please note that the numbers in the image above are directional--that is, sometimes you might determine current state before determining desired state, and as you determine the gap between the states, you may adjust your desired state, or re-frame the problem or challenge. It may make sense, for example, to take an iterative approach and break off smaller slices of a larger question. However, in general, it makes sense to understand the question you’re asking, understand where you want to go, where you are currently, how far away they are from each other, and what the next steps are.

 

 

Agree on the Problem or Challenge

Until decision makers and/or change agents agree on the problem, effective collaboration can be difficult if not impossible. 5 Without agreement on the challenge and why a change is necessary around that challenge, misaligned interests and mistaken assumptions can lead to individuals moving forward in different directions. It is not only important to agree on the fact that a change is necessary, but also that a change is necessary now. Many organizations can agree on a set of problems or challenges, but they are not motivated to move forward if they don’t agree that addressing those problems are a priority.

There are many ways to get consensus on the problem. One solid approach is to draft and collaboratively iterate on a Problem Statement. You can start by summarizing:

  • The situation or challenge

  • Why a change or improvement is necessary now

  • The impact of not changing or improving the situation

The best format for this to take will depend on your organization and the players at the table. Perhaps it is the beginning of a Business Case document, a white paper that is circulated, or a slide presented during a team meeting. What is important is that the right people are included and, if they are not directly involved in its creation, are at least given an opportunity to provide input.

You might start with a higher-level Problem Statement, and flesh it out as you work through getting agreement on desired state, current state, and the gap. A Problem Statement is often part of a Business Case or Gap Analysis, which often includes information about the path to the desired state (e.g., a project summary).

 

Determine Desired State

The desired state is basically how you would like things to be in the future - where you want to go, what the future after the change will look like. Often, if you are able to describe the problem, you have a desired state in mind. Again, consensus among decision makers and/or change agents is key here.

 

You might hold a brainstorming session and create a mindmap, tell a story that helps everyone envision the desired future state and ask for feedback, or use approaches from Liberating Structures or Gamestorming. To the extent possible, the desired state should ultimately be measurable so that you can objectively determine when you have successfully reached it.

 

Determine Current State

Libraries of books could be gathered and written about determining current state. This is, in many ways, what research methods were designed for, and a variety of research methods are used across many fields and disciplines. When it comes to organizational change, the amount and format of the information needed about current state will of course depend on the problem you are trying to solve, how you plan to measure success, and the interests of those you are trying to convince to jump on the bandwagon with you. Current processes, tools, and approaches related to the problem should be described. Whenever possible, valid and reliable data and evidence should be used so that you have a benchmark for where you are now. This benchmark can be leveraged in the future to measure success and show value to stakeholders. You may need to perform a research study, even if informal and small in scope, to compile the information.

 

Determine Gap Between Current State and Desired State

What processes, people, information, and/or technology is missing in the current state, that you need in the desired state? Collaborating to understand the gap is important, because often once the gap is truly understood, addressing it can seem overwhelming, or it can require a lot of resources. In addition, individuals may have a different view of the gap depending on where they sit in the organization.

 

It is important that those who can provide the resources to address the gap are part of the conversation at this stage, so that negotiation can be done if it is necessary. For example, negotiation might involve changing the desired state, or focusing on a nearer-term desired state so that a smaller gap can be addressed.

 

Identify Path to Desired State

Often organizational prioritization (e.g., leveraging objectives and goals) and project plans are part of the path to the desired state once the gap is understood. This stage is when you work through the specifics of how you plan to reach the desired state. This can take many forms depending on the organization, but usually there is some sort of planning document or system leveraged, and usually it involves a timeline, resources, and tasks with due dates. In one organization, the path might be made up of quarterly Objectives and Key Results, with agile teams working toward them using Sprint Goals. In another organization, the path might be the initiation of a formal project by a PMO or Center of Excellence. What is important is that the parts of the path that need to be clear for teams to execute on them are clear - whether it is a set of requirements or a set of tasks, it needs to be executable, and the results measurable.

 

Bringing it Back to Lewin’s 3 Step model

 
Once you have to identified the path to your desired state, you are ready to execute on it. You are ready to move from Unfreezing to Moving.

In future articles, we will explore the last two steps of Lewin’s model. Thanks for reading!

 

 

 

Sources

1 Burnes, B. (2004). Kurt Lewin and the Planned Approach to Change: A Re‐appraisal. Journal of Management Studies, 41: 977-1002. doi:10.1111/j.1467-6486.2004.00463.x

2 Lewin, K. (1947a). Frontiers in group dynamics: Concept, method and reality in social science; equilibrium and social change. Human Relations, 1(1): 5-41.

3 Lewin, K. (1947b). Group decision and social change. Readings in Social Psychology, 330-344.

4 Schein, E.H. (1996). Kurt Lewin's change theory in the field and in the classroom: Notes toward a model of managed learning. Systems Practice, 9, 27–47. doi:10.1007/BF02173417

5 Rosani, G., Farri, E., Di Fiore, A. (2020). You Can’t Collaborate Unless You Agree on the Problem. HBR Ascend. https://hbrascend.org/topics/you-cant-collaborate-unless-you-agree-on-the-problem/

This post was written by:

Jillian Ketterer Product Owner, Product Development

Jillian is a Product Owner for the Cycle product development and delivery teams, a former Scrum Master, and always a servant leader.  She has more than 10 years of experience in team coaching, change management, training, and continuous improvement in the information technology sector.