Fact Sheet:

Lewin's Change Theory

What is the Change Theory?

  • The Change Theory is a 3 step model broken up into 3 distinct phases aimed at propelling change.
  • Lewin's change model helps understand the change process clearly and allows organizations then to manage change effectively and find support at each stage.
  • Is it based on the analogy of a block of ice and refreezing it into a new shape.
  • It s a framework in which leaders and managers can instigate change in a step wise fashion and make it seem seamless. It gets people to change but gives guidance through a specific framework on how to do that
  • Overall the main mission of the model is to formulate drastic change with minimal disruption and ensure that it is adopted uniformly and permanently.
  • Lewin's defining words for this model is "a dynamic balance of forces working in opposing directions"
  • The model contains the following elements: field theory, group dynamics, action research and 3 step change
  • (Suc, J., Prokosch, H., & Ganslandt, T. (2009). Applicability of lewin s change management model in a hospital setting. Methods Of Information In Medicine, 48(5), 419-428. doi:10.3414/ME9235)

Change Theory Development

  • Kurt Lewin was considered the father of social and organizational psychology
  • The Change Theory model was published in 1947
  • Kurt Lewin created a compelling change model that could be considered a revolutionary and a significant discovery that has impacted practices in the workplace for several decades and continues to be extremely relevant in today's economy.
  • It was developed as a high level approach to change and is normally used when an organization wants to orchestrate major change in their structure. His teachings emphasize the role of humans as part of the change process, they are the change agents

Major Concepts

  • The major concepts of Lewin’s change theory are force field, motivators, stages, and change agent
  • The force field consists of all the behavior of a group in its environment during a given period of time
  • An issue is held in balance by the interaction of two opposing sets of forces: driving forces are those seeking to promote change and restraining forces are those who attempting to maintain the status quo
  • Lewin views organizations as systems in which the present situation is not a static pattern, but a dynamic balance of forces working in opposite directions. The driving forces must exceed the restraining forces to shift the equilibrium in order for any change to occur
  • Force Field Analysis is a useful decision-making technique. It helps to decide whether or not to move forward with the decision or change
  • A change agent is an individual who is skilled in change theory and identifies the problem and institutes planned change
  • Lewin’s change theory suggests that to begin any successful change process, one must first start by understanding why the change must take place because motivation for change must be generated before change can occur
  • Another major concept includes three different stages: unfreezing, changing, and refreezing
  • Unfreezing is the process to reduce forces and change existing attitudes which maintain behavior in present form and recognizing the need for change. This requires identifying an initial problem then preparing the ground and communication and obtaining data
  • Changing is the process that involves development of new attitudes or behaviors and implementing change
  • Refreezing is consolidating the change at a new level and reinforcement through supporting mechanisms, policies, structure and organizational norms. What began with dissatisfaction turned into motivation, leading to alteration of values, followed by alteration of behavior.
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  • This theory is often applied in healthcare settings, where change is considered a natural and necessary process.
  • As nurse leaders are an integral part of the implementation of change, they are expected to effectively apply their knowledge of theory in order to facilitate change.
  • Additionally, change represents the ability to be flexible, adaptive, and innovative, which are well-recognized characteristics of institutions that achieve MagnetTM status.

Bozak, M. G. (2003). Using Lewin’s force field analysis in implementing a nursing information system.Computers, Informatics, Nursing, 21(2), 80-85. Retrieved from http://journals.lww.com/cinjournal/pages/default.aspx

Burke, W. W. (2014). Organization change: Theory and practice (4th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.

Connelly, M. (2015, February 19). The Kurt Lewin change management model. Retrieved from http://www.change-management-coach.com/kurt_lewin.html

Yoder-Wise, P. S. (2014). Leading and managing in nursing (5th ed.). St. Louis, MO: Elsevier Mosby.

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The Process


The employees of the organization recognize an opportunity for change or a problem that would benefit from change (Yoder-Wise, 2014). This occurs through several methods: for example, the management may present data to other staff members that identifies the scope and size of the area for improvement, or staff members may become cathartic when faced with the situation (Burke, 2014). The facilitators (driving forces) and barriers (restraining forces) are identified, and strategies to strengthen the facilitators and weaken the barriers are developed (Bozak, 2003).


· Step 1: Problem identification. In accordance with continual technological advancements in healthcare, a unit seeks to replace its current nursing system with a new information system

· Step 2: Identify driving forces and restraining forces related to the integration of information systems (Table 1). Obstacles that may inhibit the system from successfully being implemented are also identified

· Step 3: Analysis of forces. Various methods of analysis are available. This unit adapted a method proposed by White (1998), which involves assigning a score of 1 (weak force) through 5 (strong force). The figure below presents the unit’s analysis diagram

· Step 4: Identify strategies to strengthen the driving forces and weaken the restraining forces. An example is planning to include the nursing staff in every stage of implementation of the change, from selecting a vendor to testing the new system


The driving forces have equalized or overcome restraining forces, and the organization incorporates what is new into the process that as identified for change (Bozak, 2003; Yoder-Wise, 2014). This step is specifically tailored to the given situation and may involve either the management behaving differently toward the other staff members in order to model the new process, or implementing the new process immediately for staff members to participate in (Burke, 2014). Implementation is more likely to be successful if the staff feels actively involved (Bozak, 2003).


· The process of planning and implementing the new information system moves forward and involvement from all staff members is encouraged.

· The change agent maintains awareness of possible resistance to the change. For example, challenges with workflow may produce a negative view of the new process. The plan set forth in the unfreezing stage may need to be revisited in order to better facilitate implementation.


This stage occurs when the organization accepts the change and utilizes the new way of thinking or doing with little chance of reverting to old ways (Yoder-Wise, 2014; Burke, 2014). To help ensure that the new process becomes well established, the organization may wish to install a reward system or implement a method of measuring employee performance. Additionally, surveys of staff members and other personalized data collection methods may be used to measure the effectiveness of the new process, as well as identify additional steps that will help ensure a successful change outcome (Burke, 2014).


· The change agent and managment helps prevent the failure of implementation of the information system by continually evaluating the new process and providing assistance and support to the staff.