In the documented published history of change management and change in organizations, many point to Kurt Lewin’s “unfreeze-change-refreeze” (1947) work as the beginning of wider recognition that serious thinking and research in organization change was worthwhile (Google it, or see here for a quick summary https://www.change-management-coach.com/kurt_lewin.html).
The bit that’s peculiar is the seeming inability we have today to refreeze.
Increasingly today, as the LiveScience article on the last Hawaiian snail species demonstrates (https://www.livescience.com/64451-george-hawaii-snail-dies.html), we are no longer able to re-freeze because we have virtually accelerated the time horizon over which change can occur that delineating differences between then and now become almost unnoticeable. In consequence, we continue onward “as if” we are unable to stop the incessant degradation in Life as we used to know it (even as little as 10 years ago) even as technological change waves continue to crash around us (see the “Disruption Vicious Cycle” diagram).
To refreeze as Lewin suggests, would be to be able to understand the change that has taken place, and asses it somehow – integrate it, live with it – and more importantly, live with it in a better way than before “it” was here.
As you may have noticed by being part of a team (as distinct from a group), while you may get periodic “jumps” in performance in the team’s effort, sustaining a meaningful bump up in performance is rare. The ability to determine whether a change in the team’s structure, resourcing, processes and or decision-making process (or other factor) has had an impact on either efficiency or effectiveness or both, is due to its ability to look back after the change and evaluate what happened and whether what happened had the intended impact.
So a thought to all who seem ok with all this change we are seeing these days.
In the beginning, our theories of change framed change as something – a thing – that happens to us. Something big changed, and we needed to look at it and figure out what and how to deal with it. In that framing, implicit was the fact that we would have a chance to recognize it, evaluate it, and in our own minds and thoughts, eventually come to terms with it – either by resisting it or joining in and making it our own – i.e. somehow making adjustments but that reconfigure and fit better in the new state.
We’re in a different world these days. Change happens to us – sometimes more than we can deal with... and then another wave with different but with as impactful consequences – crashes onto our reality.
First, obviously from this post and the reference to Lewin, the nature of change is itself changing. The question is, in what ways?
And perhaps more significantly, as change practitioners and leaders, how do we or should we, frame change today? And what do we need to consider in updating our frame of reference for change today?
Second, in the “Cycles” diagram above, the waves of external change imply that for each one, there is one (or more) “SARAH” psychological cycles that are also occurring. So we are, all of us, under increasingly strenuous and rapidly changing personal as well as working lives. If you think our lives are moving faster – they are.
Third, with an increasingly boundless amount of change, one might posit that it may no longer make sense to strive for control – but rather to hit the “automate” button on agile – and adapt continuously, with zero attachment to the past.
I would counter that resisting that urge – to change endlessly without reference – is critical. It becomes even more important for us individually if we are to understand the impact of change, to continue to baseline it and frame it somehow. Only in that way, can we be able to reflect on the cumulative impact of past and anticipated change, and then be in a position in the present moment to evaluate and, in the best of cases, choose “best from available” responses.
Here’s some questions to consider as humans and also as leaders in organizations implementing change:
At a personal level
In your teams:
In your role as leaders of transformation journeys in organizations:
The Guess Who, 1969, No Time: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XThJ9QK5piY)