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Unfreezing change as three steps: Rethinking Kurt Lewin’s legacy for change management

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journal contribution
posted on 29.07.2020 by Stephen Cummings, Todd Bridgman, KG Brown
© 2015, © The Author(s) 2015. Kurt Lewin’s ‘changing as three steps’ (unfreezing → changing → refreezing) is regarded by many as the classic or fundamental approach to managing change. Lewin has been criticized by scholars for over-simplifying the change process and has been defended by others against such charges. However, what has remained unquestioned is the model’s foundational significance. It is sometimes traced (if it is traced at all) to the first article ever published in Human Relations. Based on a comparison of what Lewin wrote about changing as three steps with how this is presented in later works, we argue that he never developed such a model and it took form after his death. We investigate how and why ‘changing as three steps’ came to be understood as the foundation of the fledgling subfield of change management and to influence change theory and practice to this day, and how questioning this supposed foundation can encourage innovation.

History

Preferred citation

Cummings, S., Bridgman, T. & Brown, K. G. (2016). Unfreezing change as three steps: Rethinking Kurt Lewin’s legacy for change management. Human Relations, 69(1), 33-60. https://doi.org/10.1177/0018726715577707

Journal title

Human Relations

Volume

69

Issue

1

Publication date

01/01/2016

Pagination

33-60

Publisher

SAGE Publications

Publication status

Published

Contribution type

Article

Online publication date

30/09/2015

ISSN

0018-7267

eISSN

1741-282X

Language

en

Exports