The unfreeze/refreeze model is one of the simplest models for understanding organizational or social change. Kurt Lewin developed it; a physicist turned social scientist. Because of his professional background, he used physical science analogies to help explain social phenomena.
His analogy deals with changing the shape of a block of ice. Say your brother-in-law has a large cube-shaped block of ice. He brought it home with the intention of making a round tire-shaped ring of ice with cherries in it to float in a big punch bowl. You tell him, “Hey, that’s no good, it’s the wrong shape.” So, now he wants to change the shape.
If he attempts to force the ice into a round ring, he’s not going to have much success. He can squeeze it as much as he wants, or pound it with a hammer. Most likely it will shatter. If he tries to use force to make the change, it will be resisted. Why? Because that block of ice is a system made up of interrelated H2O crystals in a latticework that will resist being changed. So, what can he do to make the frozen H2O more receptive to a change in shape? Obviously, he can make it liquid. He melts it in a large pan on the stove and it ends up as a great big puddle of water. At least now, it is in a form that is amenable to change. But the shape he wants it to be in is a round ring. So, he pours the liquid water into a circular mold. It’s still the same chemical compound as it was when it was ice, but now it has a new shape. Unfortunately, it won’t hold this shape. If he picks it up (as your crazy brother-in-law might do), it will pour all over the floor. In order to make it keep its new shape, he refreezes it. He adds cherries to it and puts it in the freezer. After he refreezes it, he can take it out and plop it into his punch bowl. He has successfully converted a cube of H2O into a tire-shaped ring of ice with cherries around its circumference.
The three stages he went through are unfreezing, change and refreezing. You can use the same three stages to describe any change in an organization, and especially a social change. The problem is, in an organization, we often forget one of the three steps. Typically, we forget Step One, or Step Three. We remember Step Two — we make the change — but we are never successful because there are three stages to consider, not one.
Step One: Unfreezing
How do you unfreeze a sales organization so that it will accept change? In other words, how do you make the sales selling system receptive to change? How can the sales selling system be made to want to change if you are trying to install for example, a Social Selling program? The first thing you have to do is make the sales organization receptive to change, otherwise your sales organization, like that block of ice, will naturally resist change.
One strategy is focus on an area where there is already some feeling that things aren’t working out right, that is, to go where the hurt is. That where it will be more likely that change will be accepted. Another way of putting it is, “People gotta wanna change,” or there will be this natural resistance. Then go beyond it. Go not only to where the hurt is, but also to where the hurt should be felt, but may not be. What can you do to make your sales people recognize the need for change where it ought to be recognized? How can you get your sales people to see that there is something wrong, that there is need for change?
The Unfreezing Process
Let’s take a look at today’s sales situation. Today cold calling, spamming emails, unannounced sales calls and networking are ignored and distained. Companies are not providing their sales teams with the tools, know how and training to deal with this whole new world. So how do we unfreeze the current process?
Feeding back sales people’s opinions is one good way to begin the unfreezing process. The feedback technique makes the organization aware that there are problems, that people are upset, that morale is low, or that work attitudes and performance are not what they ought to be. That’s a form of unfreezing.
In a company, you could set up a committee to investigate a problem, to see if they can get enough data to unfreeze the organization. Or you could use a consultant to do the job.
Unfreezing is often missed in training programs, and particularly in sales training. People are simply sent to courses, but they don’t see any need to change and so unfreezing does not occur. They are not receptive to learning. Someone else is simply telling them that they should change their ways, but they don’t see any need to do so. Part of the problem is that the person may perceive the training program as focusing on changing her or him. In this person’s view, someone is saying, you have been doing the job wrong and you have to change.” Naturally, there is resistance. It is preferable by far, when the person sees it as an opportunity to learn new skills, to improve himself or herself or to do the job even better.
Management training often misses the mark because the person who is to learn new skills, or the organization that is to learn new skills wasn’t unfrozen. Some effort must be made to put the organization or individual in a state more receptive to change. They gotta wanna change.
Step Two: Making the Change
In Step 2 you actually make the change. You propose the solution to the problem (a Social Selling System) that you may have identified or highlighted in Step 1. Then you get people doing it. You start your diet. You learn new skills. You make the change. Installing this change is the subject of Step 3.
Step Three: Refreezing
This step is often missed. We get an employee to change his or her work habits, but then don’t refreeze that change. We put in a new Social Selling system in an organization, but we don’t refreeze the change. If we don’t refreeze, the change is likely to be temporary.
What’s refreezing? We have to do something to the system or the organization so that the change becomes a permanent part of its operation. We refroze the water so that it would hold its shape permanently. You have to do the same thing in an organization. Just because the change happened once doesn’t mean it will continually happen or that it will maintain itself. You’ve got to cement the change into the sales organization’s culture — into the way things are done in the sales organization.
As an example: once we have established a new Social Selling Process, we need to inspect. That means that we set expectations for each person:
- Establishing a new online profile
- Developing content for sharing
- Monitoring what the competition is doing
- Joining groups (LinkedIn) and lists (Twitter) and posting relevant content.
- Mining new potential customers by using search tools.
There are other expectations that need to be developed as well, but once they have been set, just like any other objectives we need to monitor them to ensure that the refreezing sets.
This step is usually missed in management training programs. We teach people skills; we hope they will use them back on the job but we don’t build the use of these skills into the standard operating procedures of the sales organization. Suppose your organization wanted to implement Affirmative Action. How do you make the basic concepts and practices of Affirmative Action a permanent part of the organization’s work patterns? If you have a zero defects manufacturing program that you want to implement in your manufacturing plant, how do you make that change of focus in production a permanent part of the way things are done? By refreezing.
Guidelines for Change
The strength of the unfreeze, change, refreeze model is in its simplicity. I think it gives very clear guidelines for implementing change. You’ve got to go through all three stages. Some stages may be very quick. You may go through the unfreezing stage almost instantaneously with somebody by saying, “Unless you change, you lose your job.” That may put the person into a state rather quickly of wanting to accept change, but it is still a stage and it can’t be missed.
You have to get the sales organization receptive to change. People must see that there is a need for change. Then you make the change. Once it’s done, do something to build it in as a permanent part of the organization. With skill training, where employees learn specific skills to use on the job, refreezing can happen simply because the employee uses the skills. The feedback the employee gets is that the skills work. The results are positive and the employee is more likely to continue using his or her new skills because they have been reinforced. That is why quick successful use of skills after a training program helps to refreeze change into the individual’s personal practices.