By Randy Rosenthal
Change is a continuous process. In order to best manage change within an organization, a structured communications strategy is key. When all stakeholders, managers, and employees have a solid understanding of the underlying philosophy of why a change or changes are necessary, the organization as whole can make great leaps forward.
How Change Happens
The Lewin Change Management Model
Kurt Lewin, a physicist and social scientist, developed a model for change management in the 1950s. Lewin’s work focused on the motivations and effects for change. As a means to further explain his work, he developed a “block of ice” analogy containing three stages:
- Unfreeze – Ensures employees are ready for change
- Change – Execute the intended change
- Refreeze – Ensures change becomes permanent
As we examine this model, we can see how any change must go through three essential phases. Our goal is to make sure employees receive adequate communication each step of the way.
STEP 1: Unfreeze
Overcome Fear Through Communication
Where are people getting their information? Do they know what the change entails, or are they hearing about the planned changes through the grapevine or office gossip? When employees know what is going to happen, when, and why, they may feel more comfortable. Research shows that those who have more complete information about upcoming changes are more committed to a change effort.1
STEP 2: Change
How We Frame the Change Matters
Companies that have successful change management programs share a common leadership team commitment to the communication of their vision for success. When this vision is exciting and paints a picture of a future that makes employees proud, they are likely to be more committed to change. A sense of urgency is also important. Employees need a strong reason to believe change is necessary.2, 3
Facilitate Employee Participation
Studies show that employees who are active participants in change efforts tend to have more positive opinions about the change. Why? They will have the opportunity to voice their concerns. They will be more knowledgeable about the reasons for change, alternatives to the proposed changes, and why the chosen alternative was better than the others. Finally, they will feel a sense of ownership of the planned change and are more likely to be on board.4
Spotlight Small Wins
Acceptance of change will be more successful by focusing attention on the small wins.5
STEP 3: Refreeze
Continuing to share the results of the change effort can help freeze the desired attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors. Providing skills and tools to facilitate peer knowledge transfer keeps this process fresh and evolving.
A Balanced & Integrated Communication Plan Is Crucial During All Stages
Creating a brief, balanced, and integrated Change Communications Plan (CCP) that balances push and pull throughout the full change lifecycle is essential. A CCP might consist of a 3-week structured approach with defined key messages, timed email, and podcast deliverables. Topics for each communication piece might center on customer impacts and cross-functional cooperation.
1. Wanberg, C. R., & Banas, J. T. (2000). Predictors and outcomes of openness to changes in a reorganizing workplace. Journal of Applied Psychology, 85, 132–142.
2. Herold, D. M., Fedor D. B., Caldwell, S., & Liu, Y. (2008). The effects of transformational and change leadership on employees’ commitment to a change: A multilevel study. Journal of Applied Psychology, 93, 346–357.
3. Gerstner, L. V. (2002). Who says elephants can’t dance? Inside IBM’s historic turnaround. New York: HarperCollins; Kotter, J. P. (1996). Leading change. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.
4. Wanberg, C. R., & Banas, J. T. (2000). Predictors and outcomes of openness to changes in a reorganizing workplace. Journal of Applied Psychology, 85, 132–142.
5. Kotter, J. P. (1996). Leading change. Boston: Harvard Business School Press; Reay, T., Golden-Biddle, K., & Germann, K. (2006).