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Part 1 -Re-designing Change Management Models for Humans

Updated: Jul 25, 2022

Same ole change management models, same ole result.

As a catalyst for innovation (aka change), my first thought for this post was discussing how current change management models could be improved with design thinking. I felt I could be of service on the topic and that was the original goal of this post. While I find change exhilarating, many people find it extremely stressful. Fear, along with its twin, resistance make change a nearly impossible hurdle for organizations. My review of the eight most popular models for change management gave me a clear understanding of why 70% of all change initiatives fail.

Furthermore, in this age of innovation, it's insane to think that the most popular model (Lewin's) heralds back to 1940!! Not to mention, the latest theory (Satir) created in 2006 is over a decade old and is nothing more than applying emotional stages of grief to performance. Even if you're still using the Nintendo wand (also a 2006 creation) and a fan of all things vintage, the 70% failure rate creates a palpable uncertainty for leaders. Faced with the challenge of change or die, they press on. Indeed, it's better to use outdated and ineffective models than do nothing. Instinctively, they know if they change nothing, nothing will change. Indeed, it's better to die trying, than to die not having tried.

In light of these facts, my goal for this post went from infusing existing change management with design thinking to creating a new model. A new human-centered organizational innovation model to bring change management into the 21st century. Re-designing change management models with humans in mind.

A look at existing models.

Ultimately, I consider it my service to leaders to bring the tools and insights that positively impact the change they desire to create. To be useful, it helps to understand why the old models fail. To this end, I will present what I see as the glaring problem with existing models.

In summary, this quote by Frank Chimero reveals the crux of the problem:

People ignore design that ignores people. -Frank Chimero

In a nutshell, current models ignore the very people who are impacted the greatest and expected to carry the change forward - the mid-level managers and employees. Managers and employees are directly connected to serving customers. In essence, it's their service that positively or negatively impacts profits. How are employees and managers alike ignored? It starts and ends with one major problem - FEAR.

Fear - the emotional emergency brake for change.

As humans, we each have a scale of roughly 22 emotions ranging from fear to joy. Feelings of fear leave us stuck while a sense of joy excites us and gets us moving. In a perfect world, everyone would exercise emotional intelligence, be unaffected by emotions, or at a minimum be self-aware and responsible for improving their feelings. Unfortunately, it's not a perfect world, and there are several aspects of existing models that are manipulative or disempowering rather than motivating. Some are intentional and some are unintentional. And several manipulative in the wrong direction! Regardless of the origins of fear, fear is the emotional emergency brake for change.

Let's take for instance the word change itself. What emotions come to mind when you hear the word change?

Change (verb): to make the form, nature, content or future course something different from what it is or would be if left alone.

Specifically, changes are coming to our company. Harvard Business Review Research reveals that change brings up feelings of loss of control, uncertainty, concern about competence, and more. In a single word change breeds fear - and lots of it! And even leaders are not immune to this lowest of emotions. Leaders fear criticism, failure of making the wrong decision, and fear for their jobs if performance doesn't improve. Fear is the most depressed on the emotional scale, and it's as far as you can get from joy. In essence, companies smash the emergency brake, shift the car in drive, and expect to race across the finish line and win the race. It just doesn't work.

Understanding the disempowering emotion of fear created in existing models.

Overall existing models start in this lowest of emotions (fear) and often continue to breed more fear. It's no wonder, so many initiatives fail when the launch begins with feelings in the negative territory of fear! Moving through all the negative emotions (powerlessness, insecurity, doubt, worry, rage) up into the area of positivity (contentment, belief, hopefulness, eagerness, empowerment, etc.) is a daunting task (if not impossible) for one individual much less hundreds or thousands of employees. The collective energy of fear is useless in affecting change. At the very least it's not motivating. And a key ingredient necessary to make change successful is motivation. Tomorrow, in part two, we will dive deeper into how companies can start their initiatives in the positive emotional territory — thus making it easier to create motivation and maintain the momentum needed to finish successfully.

The purpose of this blog is not to throw out all the prior models but to identify the steps in each model that induce fear (aka resistance). Each of the previous models has been a success in its own right, and many have useful steps for change. Specifically, we want to look at what's manipulative, de-motivating, or at the very least disempowering to successful change within your company. It's in eliminating the ineffective and adding the practical tools of design thinking that we can begin to create a more empowering and effective model.

Lewin's model

Established in 1940, Lewin's model has three phases. Unfreeze - Change - Freeze. The model is briefly described as: "if you have a large cube of ice but realize that what you want is a cone of ice, what do you do? First, you must melt the ice to make it amenable to change (unfreeze). Then you must mold the iced water into the shape you want (change). Finally, you must solidify the new shape (refreeze)." One thing (the main thing) this model overlooks is we are talking about people, not ice. This breakdown is akin to concentration camps and stripping people of their beliefs, values, and habits. In general, concentration camps yield three types of people: dead, those that go along to get along, and those who escape or die trying.

Negatives impacting motivation:

  1. Management by fear

  2. Promotes change then listen vs. listen then change

  3. Doesn't seek to gain employee enthusiasm until the refreezing stage

Leadership is not wielding authority - it's empowering people. -Becky Brodin

And, in my opinion, the model begs the question why the heck are we refreezing anyway? In this innovation age that our world is currently in, it seems more important that we stay engaged and agile than seek to refreeze.

Bridges Transition Model