Change Model Master Blog

Welcome to my change model master-blog, in other words this is a 'bloggy' version of a masterclass. In it I bring together some of my favourite models on change from my workshops on change management.

The headings will enable you to scoot to the bit you are most interested in but if you have a cuppa and a few more minutes to spare you could do a start to finish review and get the bigger picture.

What is meant by change management?

Wikipedia describes change management as

“A structured approach to shifting/transitioning Individuals, teams and organisations from a current state to a desired future state.”

What is good about this definition is the focus on the people side of change. Often organisations get caught up in the ‘thing’ being changed such as a process, systems, building and so on. However, it is people who go through change and successful management of change is about transitioning people from a previous state to a new state in the most effective and hopefully ‘least painful’ way.

Understanding the Context of Change

The world is in a constant state of change and we cannot escape the impact of change either in our personal or professional lives.

Black and Gregerson created this model which describes the cycle of change very simply by using four stages.


Consider the last time you upgraded your mobile phone...

The chances are you were able to use your old one well, were familiar with its functionality and were comfortable with using it. Then one day you realised it was not achieving the functionality of newer phones on the market, or it was not able to give you the functions you now needed, so you upgraded. 

As soon as you got the new phone you were pressing buttons, trying out functions, perhaps reading the manual which came with it. The first few days would have seemed strange as you got used to it. 

However, as you familiarised with the new functionality it became natural and you could soon use a wide range of the new capabilities. 

Then one day you saw an advert for the next generation of phone and off you went again. 

This is a cycle which is familiar in our personal and professional lives.

In organisations, change can sometimes be simple and self-contained such as refurbishing an office or changing a supplier contract or, the changes may have a more profound impact on the organisation; perhaps affecting its strategy and how it does business. We call this latter type of change, strategic change.

Organisations are vulnerable to changes from both internal and external factors. Also changes made by organisations can in turn impact on the external environment in which they operate. For example, consider the impact of the iPad or iPhone on products provided by Apple’s competitors, leading to the creation of the Android phone and tablet computers

There are many definitions of strategic change but I prefer to describe it as:

“Making a fundamental change to how an organisation does business (its strategy) and sometimes to the business it does.”

If handled wrongly, such changes can have disastrous consequences for the organisation and its customers.

This next image is a useful graphic. I often use it to illustrate how strategic change comes about...


Identifying a Process for Managing Change

Often people ask about the process for managing change, is there a good process to follow? What steps are important? 

One of the frequent models used to provide a framework for managing change is John Kotter's 8 Step Model (explained in detail in 'The Heart of Change' by John P. Kotter and Dan S. Cohen).


An important element of this model is the emphasis on creating a 'compelling' vision. This is because it is important that the vision doesn't just make sense from a logical point of view, but is one which can capture people’s hearts as well. The vision should enable people to not only imagine how the future will look but also understand how it will 'feel' to be a part of that vision.

Another important element is the creation of quick wins. These are small successes which are achieved along the way showing people that progress is being made, and highlighting benefits already being enjoyed. This is important as the change process can be long and painful, being able to celebrate interim achievements helps keep people motivated.

Finally the emphasis on making change stick is vital. Change which is not embedded can unravel. Sadly as this step often comes at the end of a  lengthy and painful change process it is often missed, or done in an ineffective way. This step reminds us to ensure that technology, language, behaviour, reward and recognition are all aligned to promote and embed the new ways of working (and importantly discourage any return to the old way).

Another model which provides an excellent overview of the change journey which needs to happen is Kurt Lewin's 3 stage model of change. The three stages are 'unfreezing' the status quo, making the required changes and then 'refreezing' this new way of working so that the changes stick.


In Stage 1, Lewin suggests that people who are 'wedded' to the existing way of doing things will resist change. To enable them to move forward and engage with change, they need to experience a process which creates an anxiety about the old way of working. This makes them more open to new solutions, in effect 'unfreezing their status quo'.

Stage 2 of Lewin's model is about enabling people to seek and find new solutions that work. Key to success here is that people should be encouraged to experiment and explore. Mistakes should be expected rather than punished and ways to capture and capitalise on learning are needed. In effect, unless a safe environment for learning has been established in stage 1, stage 2 will not succeed. This includes anticipating operational drops in performance as people 'get their heads around' new systems and processes.

Stage 3, re-freezing, means ensuring that process, culture, role models and reward mechanisms all support the new ways of working, so enabling it to be embedded and become the new 'way we do things here'.

Creating a Common Understanding of the Problem

The first model that has value here has similarities to the Lewin 3 stage model but gets to heart of HOW you 'unfreeze' current behaviour. For people to want to change they need to really understand and empathise with the problem.

Merely telling them that there is a problem is unlikely to motivate people to change, they need to engage with the problem on an emotional level. This is where John Kotter's SEE, FEEL, CHANGE model is really simple but very effective.

In a nutshell it states that for people to change how they do things they need to SEE the need to change, FEEL the imperative to change and be motivated and compelled to CHANGE.

Consider a situation where those who are likely to be directly affected by a change are fairly happy with how things are currently being done. They are comfortable with the existing process, have worked hard to create the current system. They may see any change as rendering past work as ‘wasted’. Within such a mental model there is little imperative to change things!



Key facts can be used at the start of meetings and workshop on future thinking to give people an overview of the current 'as is' picture. The key data covers things such as the totality of cost, the amount of duplication, the number of people required to sustain the current process, the lack of evaluation or return on investment, benchmark comparisons and so on. As part of this process, bringing people face to face with those affected badly by the current situation (customers, suppliers and so on) to hear tales of woe and frustration can be very effective.


Having seen the facts and heard about the emotional impact on others, people can then move onto identifying the reasons for this level of inefficiency. This is both cathartic and can lead to people being passionate about solving the identified problems. Remember people generally want to do things well.


Having established that change is needed and then developed an emotional commitment to putting things right, people are keen to be involved in shaping their new world. This may take the form of contributing ideas on best practice, sharing discoveries around what is now working well, acknowledging what has worked less well and becoming more open to ideas of others.

Once people realise that continuing with the 'as is' situation is not an option and a new way of working has to be found, it becomes easier to cope with the inevitable problems which arise during the change process. This is because the only valid direction of travel is now to move forward.

Another model which is useful for creating a common understanding and is also helpful in identifying ways to ensure change can succeed is another model by Kurt Lewin.


Lewin's Force Field Analysis model is based around the fact that for every change process there are drivers for change - those reasons why the change should go ahead, and also resistors to change - those reasons why things should stay as they are. In its simplest form Lewin suggests that for change to succeed, it is important to understand these drivers and resistors are, then capitalise on the drivers and reduce or eliminate the resistors. According to this model, for change to happen the drivers must outweigh the resistors. 

It is good to identify drivers and resistors using a workshop. Invite people from across the business and stakeholder groups to participate. The focus on drivers helps people really understand why change is needed. Then identifying the resistors helps people to start to spot what actions need to be taken to reduce them. At the end of this workshop should be a list of actions to be taken and assigned names to undertake the work!

Understanding The sticky emotional bit!

Anyone who has been through a significant change project will recognise the strong emotions which surface as people try and get their heads (and hearts) around the changes. In her book 'On death and dying',(1995), Elisabeth Kubler-Ross described 5 stages that people go through when they are involved in the grief process. This model is often used to explain the emotions people feel during periods of significant change as the emotional journey is often one of 'grief'. You may have also heard this model referred to as the change curve.

The basic model gives a description of 5 emotions which people encounter during the change process. This model has been expanded here by Cameron and Green (see their book 'Making Sense of Change Management',2004, p52).


In this model Cameron and Green usefully map onto the change curve where the focus of communications needs to be as people go through the change process. 

Often with major change the leaders can be at the top right of the curve whilst the workers are still on the top left. Using this diagram helps to prompt leaders to focus on what their people need to hear to help them progress through the change curve rather than the communication that the leaders themselves feel ready to share.


So that was a quick jaunt through just a few of the models which really help us to think about the process of change. There are models and theories about change out there which, if you are involved regularly in change are worth exploring.

For those who see change management as a serious career choice you may also find the Effective Change Managers Handbook as a useful resource (Look out for me as a contributing, though sadly not profiting, author to chapter 13).


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