As 2021 dawns, a reflection of the changes that have been forced on humanity by the 2020 pandemic is inevitable.
Forsell, et al (2012) poses some basic questions about (innate tendency for) resistance to change: for example, do people typically recognize their own resistance to change? If it is possible to recognize one’s own resistance to change, can resistance be corrected through one’s own reflections or is outside influence and support required? How do individuals value their own resistance?
He argues that much research is required before theories of (resistance to) change are fully developed.
Nevertheless, looking at Kurt Lewin’s (1890 – 1947) theory of change (comprising 3 stages of change management, viz, unfreezing → changing → refreezing) it is possible to evaluate the implications of change that came along in 2020 as a result of the pandemic.
The uncertainty created by the pandemic in 2020 is, without doubt, a representative of Lewin’s unfreezing stage. This stage involves breaking down the existing status quo before building up a new way of operating.
One of the most important tasks during unfreezing stage is the development of a compelling message showing why the existing way of doing things cannot continue. This has been ongoing through framed messages pointing to rapid spread of the pandemic, loss of lives and livelihoods, and suchlike. These have been designed to demonstrate that things have to change in a way that everyone can understand.
The change stage began when people began to resolve the uncertainty and look for new ways to do things (masking, remote working, social distancing, lockdowns e.t.c.). People started to believe and act in ways that support the new direction.
Ordinarily transition from unfreeze to change is a process that takes time to embrace. A successful adjustment to the new direction and proactive participation in the change demands an understanding of potential benefits.
Not everyone will fall in line just because the change is necessary and will benefit the individual or the company. Accordingly, this is a common assumption and a pitfall that should be avoided. It is no wonder that governments are having challenges drumming these changes to the populace.
Unfortunately, as happens in times of change, some people were, or will, genuinely be harmed by change, particularly those who benefit strongly from the status quo. Others may take a long time to recognize the benefits that change brings. Successful change management is, therefore, dependent on two important variables of time and communication.
The refreezing stage will take shape when people have embraced new ways of life. The outward signs of the refreeze are stability, consistency, and so on. The refreeze stage also needs to help people internalize and incorporate changes.
Without refreezing, you are caught in a transition trap – not sure how things should be done, so nothing ever is done to full capacity and, hence, unable to tackle the next change initiative effectively.
The refreezing process should ideally include the celebration of the success of the change to help people to find closure, bask in the gratitude of enduring a painful time, and helps them believe that future change will be successful.