Change Management and Kurt Lewin’s Model

Subject: Strategic Management
Pages: 12
Words: 3365
Reading time:
13 min
Study level: PhD


The college functioned entirely in English and was regulated under the terms of a five years Service Agreement between an American community college and the equivalent of the Ministry of Education in the host country. A major consequence of this was a huge foundation program of English language acquisition in order to prepare students for their college level courses. Students in the foundation programs quickly far outnumbered those in the college level programs. Many learners and their families felt that learning English should not be a prerequisite for gaining a degree. There were also cultural objections since it was felt that Arabic speakers in their country should be allowed to earn a degree in their first language. In addition to such social pressures, the government also announced that the local university, and by extension the college, must open an Arabic track of instruction.

At the same time, as the college entered its third and fourth years, other significant changes were taking place. The college emerged from under the umbrella of the Ministry to become a stand-alone organization, although in the public sector, with responsibility for its own budget and aligning its vision with the country’s own National Vision due to be implemented by the year 2030. These changes also had to anticipate the end of the fifth year Service Agreement and what might happen afterwards.

The college began recruiting its own ‘locally hired’ employees, including faculty, senior academic staff, and student services personnel. This new employees were being recruited locally, regionally, and worldwide and has dramatically altered the America-centric nature of the college. Hand in hand with this change was the requirement to recruit Arabic country nationals where possible.

The above changes are replacing the primacy of English as the business language of the college. The Arabic track, moreover, means bilingual instructors and administrators will be preferred during recruitment. Additionally, programs are being modified to allow for more local relevance. Learners have also begun dropping out of foundation English programs so that they can go straight into degree programs in Arabic and earn their qualifications significantly faster.

The advent of bilingualism in the college has brought changes in the recruitment process. While hiring new staff on the basis of their competence to speak, write and understand both the English and Arabic languages is not such a major issue, existing staff members are starting to show signs of insecurity owing to the new job requirements. Recently, one of the high-ranking professors in one of the departments resigned and sought work elsewhere. Notably, he did not speak any Arabic and had once made his intentions clear that he was not ready to start learning a new language. It is probable that many more valuable staff members will follow suit. The problem for the college, therefore, is balancing the introduction of bilingualism, with the retention of the valuable non-Arabic staff members.

As would be expected, starting the Arabic track, ending the service agreement with the American community college and hiring local bilingual instructors, made the employees uneasy with the changes. The college has in the recent past experienced high turnover. The management argues that the high turnover cannot be directly linked to the changes in the college since most of the people who are resigning from work are self-initiated expatriates who are not interested in staying at one place permanently. As cited in Bamford and Daniel (2005, p. 393), changes that affect the nature of employment in an organization have a negative effect on the “psychological contract: unwritten expectations to do with implicit matters of dignity and worth resulting in reduced job security, loyalty, morale, and motivation”.

Employees’ resistance to change is one of the main issues that the college has to deal with in the coming year. Resistance to change is in most cases inevitable. According to Singla (2009), employees oppose change for a variety of reasons. Such reasons include economic causes (i.e. fear of more work at the same pay, fear of being demoted, and the fear of being fired and hence left jobless). Personal causes also inspire opposition to change among employees (Singla 2009). Personal reasons are especially cited by employees who were not involved in the decision-making process that introduced changes. Additionally, employees fear the uncertainty that comes with change, the burden of training, the dissatisfaction created by the new changes. In other words, some employees’ ego is troubled whenever there are changes in the organization (Singla 2009). Employees also oppose change for social reasons (Singla 2009). They, for example, fear the social adjustments that occur whenever there are changes. Additionally, they recognize that group norms are disturbed by changes. Finally, they get the impression that change will only benefit the organization and not them; hence, they choose to oppose the change (Singla 2009). All the above reasons are applicable in the college’s context.

Organisational factors also occasion opposition to change among employees. Singla (2009), for example, notes that where change is likely to modify the balance of power and influence, managers may oppose it. Managers may also oppose changes where they think that an organisation does not have adequate resources to accommodate proposed changes. Finally, if change comes at a huge cost, employees and managers may jointly oppose it (Singla 2009).

From the above discussion, it looks like every organisation that seeks to execute change must anticipate resistance or opposition from employees, and sometimes, from the managers. The challenge, therefore, is to reduce resistance as much as possible through management theories, practices, and change management ‘toolkits’. The major mistake by the college is that it did not anticipate such resistance.

Resistance to change is inevitable in the process of transformation management in most organizations (Werkman 2009). The change management process in any organization is principally concerned with how employees can be reinvigorated and authorized to work with the new systems and resources (Folger & Skarlicki 2010, p.534). Change management is focused on coming up with strategies that are critical in the prevention of resistance to change. According to Kotter (1995), management efforts should always be focused on the development of procedures for consultation through which the change effort can be achieved and shared within the organisation. In other words, Kotter (1995) is advocating for a pluralist approach in change management – an approach that change affects different stakeholders in different ways, and as such, they deserve to be consulted before the execution of any change (Ross & Bamber 2009)

The practices of change management also focus on the role and responsibilities of managers at different levels of the organisation and the process of change, as well as organisational structures and atmosphere (Zeffane 2006, p.57). Thus, achieving the necessary change in the organisation involves working on managing the transformation well.

Managerial change toolkit

Theoretically, various managerial intervention strategies are available for organisations to effect the desired change (Zeffane 2006, p.57). In fact, the majority of intervention strategies or management toolkits are based on models of change management and the relevance of the concepts to the organisation. Such strategies have been identified to be critical in reducing the resistance to the planned transformation. The college that is the subject of this paper, can, for example, borrow from some of these theories and use intervention strategies to improve the satisfaction and productivity of employees. The college could have used the management toolkits, which according to Folger and Skarlicki (2010), focus on activities that enhance the processes of change by modifying designs, technology, and operations. The management toolkits on performance management interventions emphasise the importance of setting goals, assessing improvement, exchanging feedback, and strengthening actions that lead to the realisation of identified goals. Employees can be encouraged to embrace change through training and professional development (Zeffane 2006, p.157). The foregoing performance management strategies are normally applied to avoid any resistance to change by the employees, and as such, the subject college in this paper could have adopted such strategies as a way of minimising employee resistance to change.

Change management models and theories

Kurt Lewin’s three-stage model is a prominent theory in change management. The theory argues that successful change management requires an appropriate communication strategy (Post & Altman 2005). The model further indicates that resistance to change can be minimised if all stakeholders, and especially the employees, receive communication about changes in a timely and effective manner (Post & Altman 2004, p.89).

Kotter’s eight-step model and Nadler and Tushman’s congruent model put much emphasis on the importance of appropriate communication strategies in effecting change within the organisation (Post & Altman 2004). Kotter (1995) argues that providing prior information about change to the employees can minimize change resistance. However, the information must be clear, precise, and understood in order to avoid the unpredictability, cynicism, and self-doubt. Used in the subject college’s context, Kotter’s eight-step model would have required the college administration to involve its employees from the early stages of change implementation. As shown in figure 1 below, all the eight steps proposed by Kotter needs people (the human resource component of a firm) to be involved.

Kotter's eight-step model
Figure 1: Kotter’s eight-step model

Managerial practices

Various management methods and models have been developed to help in effecting change in the organisation. Depending on the perspective of the desired change, management practices and models are usually applied at various levels of the organisation in order to manage transformations successfully (Strebel 2006). In fact, the main purpose of the prescribed practices is to reduce the employees’ resistance to the necessary changes.

Debates within the management literature

The Kurt Lewin’s three-step model

Lewin’s force-field theory is one of the models that have been widely applied in managing change within the organisation. The model argues that drivers and resistance to change are two opposing forces that should not be balanced. In fact, the driving forces should be greater than resisting forces in order to implement and achieve the necessary changes (Balogun & Jenkins 2003, p.71). In the subject college, for example, the importance of bilingualism should be greater than the opposing views which advocate offering course instructions in the English language only. Essentially, when the two forces are in the balanced state, the required changes are not possible, and the organisation is in the state of inertia. Thus, management should concentrate on possible actions that reduce the resisting forces and maximise on the driving forces (Balogun& Jenkins 2003). One way that the college management can reduce resisting forces is through proper communication to employees regarding the need for an Arabic track of instruction in the college, and how it will affect the competitiveness of the college.

For the organisation to attain the desired change, it must undergo a three-step process, which includes unfreezing, move, and freezing. On the unfreezing stage, managers have to identify and appreciate the current state, identify factors and causes of resistance, recognise the drivers and create awareness concerning the need of change (Balogun& Jenkins 2003). Besides, the managers have to identify goals that the institution seeks to accomplish through the proposed changes. On the ‘move’ stage, employees are involved in the change process. In other words, the move step is the action stage where people are forced to take part in the change process (Balogun & Jenkins 2003). The final stage, refreezing, aims to make the changes permanent after the implementation process. Actually, it is at this stage where the managers are expected to stabilise the organisation after the implementation process. In the final stage, the college can make bilingualism part of the college culture, hence requiring any new teaching staff member to be adept in the use of English and Arabic languages.

Kotter’s eight-step model

According to Kotter (1995), there are eight steps (see figure 1 above) that need to be followed in order to effect change successfully within the organisation. In fact, the eight steps emphasises on improving the communication during the change implementation process. The eight steps include the need to create a sense of urgency, forming a powerful coalition, creating a vision for the desired change, communicating the vision, discarding any obstacles, establishing short-term wins, building on the change process as well as institutionalising the new approaches (Kotter 1995).

Creating a sense of urgency requires analysis of the current competitive environment. Moreover, management should analyse the threats and opportunities, as well as the strengths that would allow the organisation to overcome the threats and seize new opportunities (Kotter1995). Furthermore, the management should define and activate organisational driving forces to achieve the desired urgent need for change. In the college environment for example, the management can indicate the need to enrol more students in the college-level programs, the need to respond to demands by Arabic students in their own country, and the need to abide by government directives, as the main driving forces for the proposed changes.

Forming a powerful coalition is the process of establishing the appropriate and competent management team that would drive and lead the required changes. The change management team must have a shared commitment and excellent obligation through renewal. Besides, the change management coalition should be powerful in terms of their positions, expertise reputations and relationships (Kotter 1995).

Creating a vision for change involves a clear visualisation through the establishments of goals and strategies for achieving the strategic objectives (Kotter1995). In other words, it involves establishing a vision for the required transformation that is effectively conceived by the organisation’s stakeholders. The guiding coalition has the responsibility of providing a direction for the change process. The future of the organisation is anticipated through appropriate communication, well-developed change principles and achievable goals that are appealing to all the stakeholders (Kotter 1995). In the college context for instance, the anticipated future would be one which offer college level programs to more students. Consequently, the college would be able to meet the needs of the student population while meeting its profit objectives by obtaining more tuition fees from an increased number of students.

The next step in Kotter’s stages of the change management is the communication of the formed vision. Communication is identified as the most significant element in the process of effecting change within the organisation (Kotter1995). Good communication is critical in changing the perception of employees and providing the direction for the desired transformation. The needed transformation is possible only when the employees are ready to make short-term sacrifices and when they clearly understand the need for change as well as when they are happy with the direction of the change process.

One way of preventing resistance to change is through empowering the employees, particularly the management coalition that is involved in executing the change process (Kotter 1995). Good communication is one way through which employees can be empowered. In the college’s context, offering Arabic lessons to existing staff members would also be a good way of empowering them.

Creating short-term wins is the process of establishing immediate goals that can easily be achieved (Kotter 1995). Such short success remains critical, mainly for purposes of motivating employees and reassuring them that the desired change can be achieved. The achievement of the immediate success should also be accompanied with rewards, which in effect also increases motivation. Building on change, for example, the college used as an exemplar in this case can use increased student enrolment in college level programs as an indication that the change was indeed necessary.

Institutionalising the new approaches is the final step in the Kotter’s change management process (Kotter 1995). At this stage, the organisation is required to be prepared for the coming changes. Managers are expected to formulate the best approaches and introduce the new tactics into the organisational framework.

The environment in which managers operate

Lack of integration between the management practices and the environmental uncertainties have been blamed for the failure of most of the transformation efforts within the organisation (Folger & Skarlicki 2010). It has been argued that management practices and strategies should be integrated with the uncertainties that emerge from the environment in order to succeed in the change process (Balogun & Jenkins 2003). The resistances to the organisation changes are normally associated with the complexities and uncertainties that exist within the organisation (Guimaraes & Armstrong 2008). In the college’s context, for example, existing staff members did not know whether they would lose their jobs when the changes were implemented. They were not even sure whether they would be forced to take Arabic language classes. As Guimaraes and Armstrong (2008) note, the managerial complexities are associated with the technological skills required to effect change as well as the environment in which the management operates. Some of the complexities and uncertainties include macro-environmental uncertainty, competitive complexities, market uncertainties as well as the technological inconsistencies (Guimaraes & Armstrong 2008).

The macro-environmental uncertainties arise from the organisation’s general setting in which the management operates. In most cases, the complexities arise from the regulatory framework where the required changes do not conform to the set of laws of the industry or the country in which the organisation operates (Post & Altman 2004, p.93). In the college, the government issued a directive that instructed it to start an Arabic track of instruction. True to Post and Altman’s (2004) opinion, the legal and regulatory framework, political and economic conditions have a major effect on the change itself, and the manner in which it is managed. The government, for example, made the Arabic track of instruction mandatory, and as such, the college had to find ways to make its change management processes work in support of the mandatory track of instruction. In other words, the bilingual component in the college was not optional; rather, it was mandatory.

Change agents

Successful changes within an organisation normally require change agent (Guimaraes & Armstrong 2008). The management team usually takes up the change agent role, in addition to providing daily execution and support for the transformation. In most cases, the change management agents are tasked with the planning, organizing, and execution of all the actions related to the change implementation process (Post & Altman 2004, p.94). In the college’s context, for example, the management had to pioneer the changes, and this perhaps explains why a new Dean was hired. As the change agents, the management team also ensures that the entire infrastructure needed for the change processes is in place (Folger & Skarlicki 2010, p.574). In the college, for example, new bi-lingual staff members were hired, and a trainer hired to train existing staff members interested in learning the Arabic language.

The practices involved in managing change are focused on coming up with strategies that are critical in the prevention of any resistance to change. In fact, the management efforts should always be focused on developing consultation procedures through which change efforts can be attained and shared within the organisation. When change first became apparent in the college, not much communication had been done about it. Consequently, there were fears, anxiety and resistance, factors that led to some staff members resigning. Arguably, therefore, the initial change management at the college was not effective. Ashkenas (2013, p.2) declares that “change management’ should be renamed ‘change leadership’ since change is more about making employees and stakeholders buy-into change and cooperate and less about the system”. With the above-quoted information in mind, and considering that the college hired a new Dean, it is possible that he (the new Dean) will steer the college through the turbulent waters of change. To succeed, however, he must be ready to engage all employees through effective communication as highlighted in this paper.


This paper is a critical reflection of a problem faced by a college, which has been forced by a government directive to introduce an Arabic track of instruction. Consequently, the college has embraced bilingualism, and its new recruitment requirements oblige job applicants to be adept in the use of the Arabic language. Using theoretical perspectives on change, this paper has argued that the college erred in its change management, mainly because it did not communicate about the change effectively to its existing employees. Consequently, some resigned, and others are insecure. The paper recommends that the new Dean can lead the college to manage change more effectively, by engaging all employees through proper communication.


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