Blog Post: Change Model – A Guest Post


Change is a complex process that often requires preparation and managing resistance. In a blog post written exclusively for CAM, Kayla Kerner, a Certified Leadership Coach (CLC), provides a valuable framework for successful change management in various areas of our lives, including leadership.

From Kayla:

I recently updated the trashcan in my kitchen from a can with no lid to a trashcan with a foot pedal and lid.  For weeks after the change, I would accidentally throw my trash on top of the lid.  The need to change my habit was quite frustrating and I considered taking off the lid every time it happened.  Change is hard on low levels (like changing a habit for how I throw away trash) and increasingly hard on higher levels when more people are involved.

I have found that quite a few of my coaching sessions with leaders have focused on some form of change and I think if you take a moment to consider the topics you are coaching around, you will see this trend too.  Change happens in all areas of our lives and is constant.

The typical process for change used by most people goes something like this: See a need for change, create a plan, implement the plan, and try to make it stick.  The problem with this process is that it is missing a very important component… Preparation for the change.

When I stumbled randomly upon a model for change by Kurt Lewin, a huge lightbulb went off.  The concept of this model is simple in nature, but complex in action.  It makes sense, but I find very few people prepare for change (including myself) and this model has become a staple for my coaching conversations.

There are three phases to this change model: Unfreeze, change, and refreeze.

Unfreeze: The process of preparing for change.
Change: Creating a plan, implementing the plan, and managing resistance.
Refreeze: The change is the new norm.

Think of this process as ice.  If I wanted to change an ice cube into an ice sickle, I first have to melt the cube into water in order to change the shape.  The unfreeze step is vital to the change being successful but so often is skipped.  Unfreezing is challenging because it is breaking down the attitudes and behaviors that create the current norm.  I have found this concept very helpful when working with leaders but it is easily applicable across any segment or niche.

The unfreezing process starts with identifying a need for change and over-communicating that need to all involved.  The assumption that the need for the change is obvious or understood by all should not happen.  This is a simple best practice that I sometimes need to remind my client of.  However, my coaching primarily focuses around the deeper points of unfreezing:

  • What attitudes and behaviors need to “unfreeze” for the change to happen?
  • What resistance might push against the change and how do we manage it?

Let’s look at unfreezing a simple goal: I want to start exercising.  The attitudes and behaviors that need to unfreeze might be things like: I don’t like exercise.  Exercise is hard.  I put off my workout until the end of the day and never end up having time for it.  I don’t know what to do.  Others will laugh at me because I am new.  These attitudes and behaviors create resistance that needs to be addressed for the change to be successful, so we consider how we can manage the resistance.  Thinking through this before the change occurs allows us to consider what might help the plan be successful and how we can manage the behaviors and attitudes that work against the change occurring.  You will still encounter resistance but being prepared will better help you manage it.

To take this to a higher level, let’s say a leader is making a change in a process that the team has been doing for years.  When other people are involved, the over-communication of the “why” is vital.  Without it, assumptions about the change may overshadow the need and create greater resistance.  Preparing for resistance is the primary focus of unfreezing.  Coaching centers around the attitudes and behaviors that need to shift.  Some of those might include: The old process worked just fine.  Don’t change what isn’t broken.  The old process was simple.  Learning a new system is difficult, frustrating, or intimidating.  I don’t know how to do it so I am going to continue with the old process. The new process doesn’t make sense and is not necessary.  The resistance created by these pushes against the change process.

This is where I find the gold nugget of this model for coaching.  I can help a client prepare for resistance, but the greater awareness comes when those questions are directed at them.  What attitudes and behaviors do you (as a leader or individual) need to unfreeze in order for change to be successful?  Maybe it is their attitude about the upcoming resistance to change.  Maybe they have to change their process.  Maybe they have to provide a different level of support than they usually do.  Maybe their style of leadership has tolerated attitudes and behaviors that actually create or support resistance.  This is the gold nugget!  This is where impact is great!  Once they find this awareness for themselves, they can start to develop it externally and truly prepare themselves and others for change allowing them to progress through the change and refreeze phases more successfully.

Change seems simple.  We know it isn’t.  This model seems simple.  It really isn’t.  And that is what makes it the tool I have returned to most in my coaching.

Kayla brings rocket fuel to every project she joins. Her energy and charisma infuse her clients with possibility and desire.  Kayla has committed her life to seeing people thrive through personal development. Fulfillment comes when people work together to make the world a better place. Kayla is a Certified Leadership Coach (CLC) with Coach Approach. She is married to her best friend, Rob, and they recently celebrated the arrival of their first child, Cole.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *