Change, change, change. . . .

When one thinks of change it suggests an event or result that brings a person or organization from one state or mode of operating to another. In the Lewin-Schein change model the process is threefold: unfreeze-change-refreeze. The unfreeze stage is the stage at which the need for change is championed. It requires a critical mass of acceptance among members of the organization before change can be initiated. Often this need for change is motivated by discontentment with the current state or condition, as well as a desire for a preferred future state. As the unfreezing stage has influenced a critical mass of individuals the change process is initiated. This is the enactment of a strategy designed for the purpose of moving the person or organization to the preferred future state. However, given the propensity for humans to digress to familiar patterns of action, especially during times of duress or stress, Lewin-Schein proposes that change is not successful until the refreeze stage is complete. This is a process of structural and procedural codification of the change that endeavors to keep the individual or organization from moving back into old familiar past behaviors that predate the change stage.

This is a simple change model and one that can be effective. However, more recent reflection on this model proposes that the final stage of refreezing is impractical in the current era of rapid social, economic, and cultural change. Instead, some are suggesting that no organization should ever believe that it has achieved a state of rest, or settle into a current state or stage of development. What does this mean? It means that we live in a world that is in a constant and unabated state of transition and these transitional states are occurring with more and more rapidity. As such, even as an organization is moving from one state to the next it must be thinking three and four changes ahead and not merely looking to the next stage in the organizational life.

Let me illustrate. I used to play billiards and I wasn’t very good. I usually only looked one shot ahead. I looked for the next easiest shot and no further. I began to notice that the really good players were planning two and three shots ahead. When they took a shot they were setting up the next shot, and the next, and so on. When an organization moves only from one shot to the next it will never be ahead of the game but will always be playing behind the changing environment in which it exists.

Perhaps a new model of change would be unfreeze-change-change-change . . .