The challenge of change - Business Works
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The challenge of change

W hen we talk of change, and the process of change, we begin to talk about one of the most challenging experiences we face as human beings. It is difficult for most of us to change and to adapt to change, and in doing so we often experience stress. Change is a constant, dynamic process of being human.

Gary Newborough

However, many organisations fail to recognise the impact that change can have on their workforce, particularly when that change is imposed. It’s not just about humane exit strategies, compensation and outplacement as they try to develop structures that will meet the needs of the current economic climate and enable survival.

In 1947 Psychologist Kurt Lewin’s presented a three stage theory of change commonly referred to as Unfreeze, Change, Freeze (or Re-freeze). Still very relevant today, it goes like this:


A basic tendency of people is to seek safety and a sense of control, they attach their sense of identity to their environment. Any alternatives, even those which may offer significant benefit, will cause discomfort.

Talking about the future thus is seldom enough to move them from this 'frozen' state and significant effort may be required to 'unfreeze' them.


Lewin's model suggests that change is a journey rather than a simple step. It may not be that simple and the person may need to go through several stages of misunderstanding before they get to the destination.

A classic trap is for the leaders to spend months on their own personal journeys and then expect everyone else to cross the chasm in a single bound.

Transition requires time and leadership is key. Some form of coaching, counselling or other psychological support will often be very helpful. Only this week hundreds of health workers were left devastated and in tears after a “blundering boss” wrongly told them that their jobs were at risk.

Quite often the hardest part is to start. Transition can also be a distraction. People become comfortable in temporary situations where they are not accountable and where talking about change may be substituted for real action.


At the other end of the journey, the final goal is to 're-freeze', putting down roots again and establishing the new place of stability.

In practice, however, refreezing may never actually happen as transitions seldom stop cleanly. There are good and bad things about this. The next change may well be just around the corner so what is often encouraged is more of a state of 'slushiness' where freezing is never really achieved (theoretically making the next unfreezing easier). The danger is that people tend to fall into a state of shock which impacts on performance as they wait for the next change.

Gary Newborough can be contacted via:

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