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Motivating People to Accept Organizational Change

Motivating People to Accept Organizational Change

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By Dr. Marie Gould Harper
Program Director, Management, American Public University

“Motivation for change must be generated before change can occur. One must be helped to re-examine many cherished assumptions about oneself and one’s relations to others.” – Kurt Lewin

Psychologist Kurt Lewin’s model of organizational change focuses on how to motivate a person to want to change. But how do you condition someone with entrenched thinking to accept organizational change?

Although Lewin’s model is helpful for laying a foundation for a change management initiative, changes within an organization take time. Changes are also dependent on workers’ emotions affecting their behavior and their willingness to accept inevitable transformations.

How the Lewin Model Is Used in an Organization

Lewin’s three-phase model of organizational change is comprehensive and addresses all aspects of any organization. During the first phase (Unfreeze), you should:

  • Conduct a needs assessment to determine who and what needs to change.
  • Present your information and “get the green light” from the senior management team.
  • Create opportunities to discuss why change is needed through an open forum.
  • Implement a system to solicit and address concerns and challenges about the change.

The next stage (Change) highlights the importance of communication by:

  • Keeping everyone informed on a regular basis by communicating information about the change initiative.
  • Dispelling rumors about what changes are occurring and why.
  • Collaborating with staff to obtain their buy-in, so they feel empowered to take action when necessary.
  • Involving the workforce at every step in the process, so they feel a sense of ownership.

The final stage (Refreeze) puts processes in place to sustain organizational changes:

  • Establish the changes in the organization’s culture.
  • Develop ways to sustain the changes.
  • Provide support and training.

Implementing the Lewin Model of Organizational Change in Your Own Company

If your organization has made the decision that it’s time to make a change, consider drafting a plan using Lewin’s model.  A sample format might include the following:

Needs Assessment

  • Research and determine what needs to change and why it needs to change.
  • Present findings to the senior management team and acquire approval to proceed.
  • Keep communication lines open by establishing a timeline to discuss milestones and progress.


  • Select a sample of your employee population to serve as a focus group.
  • Ensure that the focus group is representative of each level of your organization.
  • Communicate what you expect to achieve and how they can assist you with accomplishing the initiative.
  • Solicit feedback on the best approach to initiate change for the project.
  • “Deputize” the focus group(s) to be ambassadors for the workforce.


  • Create an environment in which employees feel trusted and valued versus micromanaged.
  • Allow the middle management team to serve as facilitators, subject matter experts and coaches while empowering work teams to develop the game plan.
  • Consider allowing teams or committees to implement the changes throughout the organization.
  • Secure an external consultant (or external temporary leader) to serve as mediator/project manager of the initiative.

By following Lewin’s model for organizational change, you may have the opportunity to foster necessary employee motivation and transition your company to the next level. Those employees will support any changes, because they were instrumental in creating them.

Remember to keep the engagement level high by:

  • Communicating often and encouraging feedback (positive and negative)
  • Making sure senior management is visible and accessible
  • Creating opportunities for employees to develop their skill set while going through the process
  • Providing an atmosphere that encourages self-management
  • Recognizing employees for their hard work
  • Nurturing leader-follower relationships

Organizations will have a higher percentage of success if they ensure that the overall organizational change plan includes strategies to address communication, inclusion and empowerment.

The suggested format also provides an opportunity to increase the level of engagement among employees from various levels. That will add credibility to the process of change, improve its chances of sustainability, and minimize any defectors or derailments.

About the Author

Dr. Marie Gould Harper is the Program Director of Management at American Public University. She holds an undergraduate degree in psychology from Wellesley College, a master’s degree in instructional systems from Pennsylvania State University and a doctorate in business from Capella University. She is a progressive coach, facilitator, writer, strategist and human resources/organizational development professional with more than 30 years of leadership, project management, and administrative experience. Dr. Gould Harper has worked in both corporate and academic environments.

Dr. Gould Harper is an innovative thinker and influential leader, manifesting people skills, a systematic approach to problems, organizational vision and ability to inspire followers. She is committed to continuous improvement in organizational effectiveness and human capital development, customer service and the development of future leaders.



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