Organisations change in response to a multiplicity of external or internal environment drivers. Organisational change requires a planned approach and an effective change management to move the firm from its current situation to another. The management of change encompasses all actions meant to support teams and staff to adopt new systems or processes to move the organisation from its current situation to a new state (Burnes 2004).
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In contrast, planned change refers to an incremental series of actions that a change agent undertakes to move the organisation or department to a state of enhanced effectiveness (Senior & Swailes 2010). It comprises change phases and processes geared towards obtaining an optimal solution to identified organisational issues. Various change models exist for implementing change in organisations. This paper will apply Lewin’s Change Model to the Lighthouse Press, a publisher planning to change its business model from print media to a digital magazine.
The Case Study Issue
Lighthouse Press is a communications company based in the city of Lemchester. One of its products is the ‘Where to Whatever!’ or ‘W2W!’ magazine, a monthly publication. The organisation plans to discontinue its print edition and instead offer a free digital publication. In the information age, going digital is inevitable. Castells (2000) considers electronic media an inclusive “real virtuality” that allows messages tailor-made for specific segments, such as the young adults that the digital ‘W2W!’ will target (p. 13). Under the new technological paradigm, revenue streams for media outlets come from adverts placed on the online segment. For ‘W2W!’, the success of the transition to digital media will depend on how well the planned change process is managed and the model used to implement the desired change.
Lewin’s 3-Step Change Model
This change model encompasses three main steps: unfreezing, changing, and refreezing (Burnes 2004). The steps are outlined in Table 1 below. The major assumptions of this model are that change is pre-planned and people are at the centre of any change initiative. The success of the change process would depend on the balance between driving forces (motivation for change) and restraining forces (status quo) (Burnes 2004).
The first step, unfreezing, involves preparations for the planned change. It arises when the drivers for change overcome the restraining forces, paving way for a change initiative. In other words, the motivation to change the current state of affairs is higher than the resistance. During this stage, people are prepared to undertake the change after overcoming the initial resistance. Useful tactics in the unfreezing stage include communication, training, staff involvement, negotiation to win stakeholder support, and sometimes coercion (Gareis 2010). The main goal is to minimize resistance in preparation for the transition.
Table 1. Lewin’s Change Model.
The second step is the changing stage. It entails transitioning into the new state by changing to new behaviour, systems, structures, etc. (Gareis 2010). The tactics for changing the current situation include frequent communication to highlight the benefits of the change, dispelling rumours through open and honest engagement, and employee involvement and training as a resistance-reducing strategy.
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The third step is the refreezing stage. It entails the reinforcement of the change through regular feedback and organisational incentives for positive behaviour (Senior & Swailes 2010). The central goal is to stabilise the change made and avoid a relapse. One key resistance-reduction tactic applicable at this stage is aligning the change with the organisational culture. The change-organisational cultural fit can be achieved by addressing the barriers to sustained change and through adequate management support in the form of capacity training. Additional strategies during this stage include sustaining the change through appropriate leadership style, rewards for changed behaviour, and employee feedback.
From the case study, it is clear that moving ‘W2W!’ magazine to a digital platform should be incremental to retain the publication’s identity. The magazine’s objectives, mission, and content should remain unchanged. Going digital will increase revenue streams through ad sales. Its new vision is to become a dominant online magazine with useful reviews of restaurants, hotels, and other leisure sites in the city of Lemchester.
Critical Evaluation of the Model and Planned Change
Lewin’s model entails a 3-step planned change process. The literature identifies two major approaches to change that an organisation: emergent and planned change (Burnes 2004). Planned change describes the movement from a “fixed stage to another” through a logical sequence of stages (Myers, Hulk & Wiggins 2012, p. 78). This approach requires an organisation to identify beforehand the steps it will pass through to move from its current situation to the desired state.
For the ‘W2W!’, going digital (desired state) will require its management to anticipate and plan for disruptions in the business processes, including a resistance to change by reviewers accustomed to working with print media. In this case, early stakeholder engagement and the identification of change agents (champions) may be critical organisational responses for a successful planned change process. The emergent change may not be the best for the magazine’s transition.
This approach holds that change is a fast-paced process, and therefore, the management may not formulate and implement effective responses (Hayes 2010). Success in adapting to the younger, tech-savvy readership will require effective planning as opposed to a dramatic change process.
In Lewin’s model, the unfreezing stage is the preparatory phase. This stage could be useful for the planned change in ‘W2W!’. In this step, the employees move away from routine work processes and embrace new practices in preparation for the change (Miller, Madsen & John 2006). For an effective ‘W2W!’ digital transition, the reviewers must be encouraged to shed off established practices, i.e., writing print content, and acclimatise to producing reviews digitally. Burnes (2004) reinforces Lewin’s model by providing a set of conditions that will create an ‘unfreezing’ environment. First, allaying fears and concerns will allow employees to understand that without digital migration, the status quo (print magazine) will not help the organisation realise its revenue goals.
Second, the ‘unfreezing’ process can also result from survival anxiety, i.e., the notion that “engaging in the change process could lead to diminished effectiveness or individual identity” (Burnes 2004, p. 83). To ‘unfreeze’ the workforce, the management of Lighthouse Press should make a compelling business case for the change to gain stakeholder buy-in. For instance, the risk for not moving may include a drop in sales, while going digital will expand the magazine’s readership (younger adults), grow revenue from increased ad sales opportunities, and provide reviewer freedom. Giving this information will reduce resistance and elicit support for the change.
The other tactics ‘W2W!’ may use to create an ‘unfreezing’ environment include reviewer training in digital media, employee involvement, stress management, and negotiations (Burnes 2009). However, the model’s first step involves some challenges, including anxiety and uncertainty-related risks. As Palmer, Dunford, and Akin (2009) note, in the ‘unfreezing’ step, the employees tend to anxious in their new roles. This anxiety may result in unconstructive employee behaviour initially.
In the second step (changing), the workforce takes part in activities designed to “identify and implement” new changes in organisational behaviour or culture, systems, and structures (Burnes 2009). It is the moving stage. For ‘W2W!’, activities during this stage may entail staff training and support, recruitment of additional reviewers, and day-to-day directions from line managers. Cowan-Sahadath (2010) proposes that for change to occur, the stakeholders, including employees, should be involved in key decisions. Thus, the ‘W2W!’ management should provide opportunities for employee engagement, either directly or through unions.
Initially, the publisher can allow trial and error as the reviewers adjust to the new practices. Over time, resistance will reduce as the change drivers overcome the restrainers (Cawsey, Deszca & Inglos 2012). Initial evaluations of staff progress in adapting to the new change will indicate if additional training and support are required to enhance fidelity and reduce complacency. Staff involvement in decision-making is considered a best practice in change management literature.
Engaged employees are more receptive and committed to change than disengaged ones (Smith & Graetz 2011). The involvement should illuminate the specific gains for the employee to decrease resistance. In the current case, greater emphasis will be required on the advantages of a digital ‘W2W!’ edition (improved reviewer freedom and bonuses) to the change recipients.
Lewin’s last step (refreezing) emphasises on reinforcing or stabilising the change made (Burnes 2009). The aim is to strengthen the new processes and normalise behaviour to avoid relapse. At this stage, reinforcements for the change are necessary to ‘fix’ the new organisational practices. A successful ‘refreezing’ requires extrinsic employee rewards for fidelity to the new practices. The goal of the reward system is to achieve behaviour modification (Crawford & Nahmias 2010).
In this regard, ‘W2W!’ reviewers embracing digital media will deserve recognition for behaviour change. Rewards and recognition stress the value placed on positive behaviour, which helps avoid reverting to the status quo (Daft 2010). The rewards for reviewers producing useful digital content may include bonuses, promotions, paid vacations, etc.
Lewin’s model can be applied in ‘W2W!’ in different ways. First, the organisation can opt to change its current team of 20 reviewers. Acquiring a new workforce will help change the old skills, beliefs, dispositions, and behaviour (Smith & Graetz 2011). Second, the organisational structures and systems could be changed. Such changes will affect reporting lines, work processes, and compensation schemes. The reviewers could be required to produce digital content or work remotely as part of the restructuring process. Third, the organisational climate could be transformed in relation to decision-making and problem solving processes.
Lewin’s model is founded on the reciprocal relations between interdependent units in the organisation. In the context of ‘W2W!’, new HRM practices, e.g., hiring new teams, will result in changes in the editorial and marketing departments. The model can help implement planned change in an incremental fashion to attain the desired state. However, it may not be the best framework for implementing change in turbulent times. Its assumption that business entities operate in steady environments and can shift into a desired stable state makes the model impracticable in chaotic markets (Cameron & Green 2012). It also focuses on top-down implementation, which may not work for all change initiatives.
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From the literature, it is clear that Lewin’s model gives a useful theoretical account for planned change in organisations. It encompasses three basic steps – unfreezing, changing, and freezing – for moving the organisation to the desired state. The model, as applied to ‘W2W!’ case, shows that the senior management of the publisher can create ‘unfreezing’ conditions by identifying and addressing the reviewers’ fears and attitudes. Further, implementing change activities such as staff training and managerial support can reduce resistance and initiate the digital migration. Subsequently, the organisation will adopt reinforcements to help sustain the new change and avoid reverting into developing content for the print edition.
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