(quote by Heraclitus, image by: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/534732155728795869/
We are surrounded by change. It is the one constant in life. Driving through the Colorado mountains to Gunnison for a Board of Trustees meeting at Western Colorado University, I see aspen trees bursting out in glorious gold — this shows the change of seasons. My daughter just got married — there is change in her life and mine. When I meditate, I am mindful of the flow of sensations — here is evidence of the impermanence of life. One of the companies with which I'm affiliated was just acquired — there is change in my professional life and in that organization. Change is all around us. How do you manage it?
What Is Change?
Change is transition. It is defined as the act or instance of making or becoming different.
Practical Pointers for Effectively Managing Change
Social Change Theory developed by Kurt Lewin in the 1940s offers a useful approach to understanding and managing change. I have put it to work in all aspects of my life, especially organizational change.
Here is a quick overview. First, represent the situation as a field of forces. There are positive forces encouraging movement to the desired state and there are restraining forces holding movement back.
Then, to change the situation and the force field, use Lewin's three steps to unfreeze, change, and refreeze. "First you must melt the ice to make it amenable to change (unfreeze). Then you must mold the iced water into the shape you want (change). Finally, you must solidify the new shape (refreeze)." Further details from Lewin's model are below.
UNFREEZE. Understand why the change needs to occur. State the vision of the outcome. Articulate a clear message.
CHANGE. Realign the force field by decreasing or removing the forces restraining the shift. If possible, turn the negative forces into positive forces. Then increase forces encouraging the change. "Look for new ways to do things. People need to understand how it will benefit them. Time and communication are the two keys to the changes occurring successfully. People need time to understand the changes, and they also need to feel highly connected to the organization throughout the transition period. That means answering questions openly and honestly, dealing with problems immediately, and relating the need for change back to operational necessities. You can also empower your people by involving them in the process, where appropriate. Also, have line managers provide day-to-day direction. Where possible, generate short-term wins to reinforce the change."
REFREEZE. "The outward signs of the refreeze are a stable organization chart, consistent job descriptions, and so on, making sure that the changes are used all the time, and that they are incorporated into everyday business. As part of the refreezing process, make sure that you celebrate the success of the change — this helps people to find closure, to thank them for enduring a painful time, and to help them believe that future change will be successful."
When we were building our first tech venture, Radish Communications Systems (aka Radish 1.0), we applied Lewin's change model. We had introduced our VoiceView product and made the first big sale, but we realized we were not going to get to our financial goals. Change was needed. We conducted a force field analysis of the situation. While there were positive forces encouraging companies to buy and implement Radish's 'voice with visual exchange' solution (such as improved understanding, reduced time to transact business, and improved user experience), there were strong negative forces holding companies back (users needed new hardware and software on both sides of a phone call, there were no standards, and there was uncertainty if our company would survive).
So we changed our business model to realign the forces. We were fortunate to attract a significant partner, Microsoft, to embed our software in the Windows operating system and modem partners (representing 90% of the worlds' chip, modem, and PC shipments) to embed our hardware in their off-the-shelf devices. With these powerful partners, we removed the negative forces and our solution became the defacto standard for voice / data communications over standard telephone lines. Remarkable!
Change is inevitable. How to manage it? Use Kurt Lewin's change management model. Recognize there is a field of forces holding the situation in its current state. Unfreeze the situation, make change happen by realigning the forces, and then refreeze. The result can be fast and smooth change leading to a stable outcome.