Planned Approach to Change

Topics: Change management, Behavior, Kurt Lewin Pages: 36 (11982 words) Published: February 13, 2011
Kurt Lewin and the Planned Approach to Change:
A Re-appraisal
Bernard Burnes
Manchester School of Management
 The work of Kurt Lewin dominated the theory and practice of change management for over 40 years. However, in the past 20 years, Lewin’s approach to change, particularly the 3-Step model, has attracted major criticisms. The key ones are that his work: assumed organizations operate in a stable state; was only suitable for small-scale change projects; ignored organizational power and politics; and was top-down and management-driven. This article seeks to re-appraise Lewin’s work and challenge the validity of these views. It begins by describing Lewin’s background and beliefs, especially his commitment to resolving social conflict. The article then moves on to examine the main elements of his Planned approach to change: Field Theory; Group Dynamics; Action Research; and the 3-Step model. This is followed by a brief summary of the major developments in the field of organizational change since Lewin’s death which, in turn, leads to an examination of the main criticisms levelled at Lewin’s work. The article concludes by arguing that rather than being outdated or redundant, Lewin’s approach is still relevant to the modern world. INTRODUCTION

Freud the clinician and Lewin the experimentalist – these are the two men whose names will stand out before all others in the history of our psychological era.
The above quotation is taken from Edward C Tolman’s memorial address for Kurt Lewin delivered at the 1947 Convention of the American Psychological Association (quoted in Marrow, 1969, p. ix). To many people today it will seem strange that Lewin should have been given equal status with Freud. Some 50 years after his death, Lewin is now mainly remembered as the originator of the 3-Step model of change (Cummings and Huse, 1989; Schein, 1988), and this tends often to be Journal of Management Studies 41:6 September 2004

0022-2380
© Blackwell Publishing Ltd 2004. Published by Blackwell Publishing, 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford, OX4 2DQ, UK and 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA.
Address for reprints: Bernard Burnes, Manchester School of Management, UMIST, Manchester M60 1QD, UK (Bernard.Burnes@umist.ac.uk).dismissed as outdated (Burnes, 2000; Dawson, 1994; Dent and Goldberg, 1999; Hatch, 1997; Kanter et al., 1992; Marshak, 1993). Yet, as this article will argue, his contribution to our understanding of individual and group behaviour and the role these play in organizations and society was enormous and is still relevant. In today’s turbulent and changing world, one might expect Lewin’s pioneering work on change to be seized upon with gratitude, especially given the high failure rate of many change programmes (Huczynski and Buchanan, 2001; Kearney, 1989; Kotter, 1996; Stickland, 1998; Waclawski, 2002; Wastell et al., 1994; Watcher, 1993; Whyte and Watcher, 1992; Zairi et al., 1994). Unfortunately, his commitment to extending democratic values in society and his work on Field Theory, Group Dynamics and Action Research which, together with his 3-Step model, formed an inter-linked, elaborate and robust approach to Planned change, have received less and less attention (Ash, 1992; Bargal et al., 1992; Cooke, 1999). Indeed, from the 1980s, even Lewin’s work on change was increasingly criticized as relevant only to small-scale changes in stable conditions, and for ignoring issues such as organizational politics and conflict. In its place, writers sought to promote a view of change as being constant, and as a political process within organizations (Dawson, 1994; Pettigrew et al., 1992; Wilson, 1992).

The purpose of this article is to re-appraise Lewin and his work.. The article begins by describing Lewin’s background, especially the origins of his commitment to resolving social conflict. It then moves on to examine the main elements of his Planned approach to change. This is followed by a description of developments in the...

References: Allaire, Y. and Firsirotu, M. E. (1984). ‘Theories of organizational culture’. Organization Studies, 5, 3,
193–226.
Allport, G. W. (1948). ‘Foreword’. In Lewin, G. W. (Ed.), Resolving Social Conflict. London: Harper &
Row.
Argyris, C. (1990). Overcoming Organizational Defenses. Boston, MA: Allen and Bacon.
Argyris, C. (1992). On Organizational Learning. Oxford: Blackwell.
Argyris, C., Putnam, R. and McLain-Smith, D. (1985). Action Science: Concepts, Methods and Skills for
Research and Intervention
Ash, M. G. (1992). ‘Cultural contexts and scientific change in psychology – Lewin, Kurt in Iowa’.
Back, K. W. (1992). ‘This business of topology’. Journal of Social Issues, 48, 2, 51–66.
Bargal, D. and Bar, H. (1992). ‘A Lewinian approach to intergroup workshops for Arab-Palestinian
and Jewish Youth’
Bargal, D., Gold, M. and Lewin, M. (1992). ‘The heritage of Kurt Lewin – Introduction’. Journal of
Social Issues, 48, 2, 3–13.
Bechtold, B. L. (1997). ‘Chaos theory as a model for strategy development’. Empowerment in Organizations, 5, 4, 193–202.
Beer, M. and Nohria, N. (2000). ‘Cracking the code of change’. Harvard Business Review, May–June,
133–41.
Bennett, R. (1983). Management Research. Management Development Series, 20. Geneva: International
Labour Office.
Bernstein, L. (1968). Management Development. London: Business Books.
Black, J. (2000). ‘Fermenting change: capitalizing on the inherent change found in dynamic nonlinear (or complex) systems’. Journal of Organizational Change Management, 13, 6, 520–25.
Boje, D. M. (2000). ‘Phenomenal complexity theory and change at Disney: response to Letiche’.
Brown, S. L. and Eisenhardt, K. M. (1997). ‘The art of continuous change: linking complexity theory
and time-paced evolution in relentlessly shifting organizations’
Buchanan, D. A. and Storey, J. (1997). ‘Role-taking and role-switching in organizational change:
the four pluralities’
Burnes, B. (2000). Managing Change, 3rd edition. Harlow: FT/Pearson Educational
Cartwright, D (1951)
Cartwright, D. (Ed.) (1952). Field Theory in Social Science. London: Social Science Paperbacks.
Choi, T. Y., Dooley, K. J. and Rungtusanatham, M. (2001). ‘Supply networks and complex adaptive
systems: control versus emergence’
Coch, L. and French, J. R. P. Jr (1948). ‘Overcoming resistance to change’. Human Relations, 1 , 4,
512–32.
Collins, D. (1998). Organizational Change. London: Routledge.
Cooke, B. (1999). ‘Writing the left out of management theory: the historiography of the management of change’. Organization, 6, 1, 81–105.
Cummings, T. G. and Huse, E. F. (1989). Organization Development and Change, 4th edition. St Paul,
MN: West Publishing.
Cummings, T. G. and Worley, C. G. (1997). Organization Development and Change, 6th edition. Cincinnati, OH: South-Western College Publishing.
Cyert, R. M. and March, J. G. (1963). A Behavioral Theory of the Firm. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice
Hall.
Darwin, J., Johnson, P. and McAuley, J. (2002). Developing Strategies for Change. Harlow: FT/Prentice
Hall.
Dawson, P. (1994). Organizational Change: A Processual Approach. London: Paul Chapman Publishing.
Dent, E. B. and Goldberg, S. G. (1999). ‘Challenging resistance to change’. Journal of Applied
Behavioral Science, 35, 1, 25–41.
Dickens, L. and Watkins, K. (1999). ‘Action research: rethinking Lewin’. Management Learning, 30, 2,
127–40.
Dunphy, D. D. and Stace, D. A. (1992). Under New Management. Sydney: McGraw-Hill.
Dunphy, D. D. and Stace, D. A. (1993). ‘The strategic management of corporate change’. Human
Relations, 46, 8, 905–18.
Eden, C. and Huxham, C. (1996). ‘Action research for the study of organizations’. In Clegg, S. R.,
Hardy, C
Elden, M. and Chisholm, R. F. (1993). ‘Emerging varieties of action research: Introduction to the
Special Issue’
Elrod P. D. II and Tippett, D. D. (2002). ‘The “Death Valley” of change’. Journal of Organizational
Change Management, 15, 3, 273–91.
French, W. L. and Bell, C. H. (1984). Organization Development, 4th edition. Englewood Cliffs, NJ:
Prentice-Hall.
French, W. L. and Bell, C. H. (1995). Organization Development, 5th edition. Englewood Cliffs, NJ:
Prentice-Hall.
French, J. R. P. Jr and Raven, B. H. (1959). ‘The bases of social power’. In Cartwright, D. (Ed.),
Studies in Social Power
Garvin, D. A. (1993). ‘Building a learning organization’. Harvard Business Review, July–August, 78–91.
Gellerman, W., Frankel, M. S. and Ladenson, R. F. (1990). Values and Ethics in Organizational and Human
Systems Development: Responding to Dilemmas in Professional Life
Gersick, C. J. G. (1991). ‘Revolutionary change theories: a multilevel exploration of the punctuated
equilibrium paradigm’
Gilchrist, A. (2000). ‘The well-connected community: networking to the edge of chaos’. Community
Development Journal, 3, 3, 264–75.
Gold, M. (1992). ‘Metatheory and field theory in social psychology: relevance or elegance?’ Journal
of Social Issues, 48, 2, 67–78.
Gould, S. J. (1989). ‘Punctuated equilibrium in fact and theory’. Journal of Social Biological Structure,
12, 117–36.
Greenwald, J. (1996). ‘Reinventing Sears’. Time, 23 December, 53–5.
Handy, C. (1994). The Empty Raincoat. London: Hutchinson.
Hannagan, T. (2002). Management: Concepts and Practices, 3rd edition. Harlow: FT/Pearson.
Hannan, M. T. and Freeman, J. (1988). Organizational Ecology. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University
Press.
Harris, P. R. (1985). Management in Transition. San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass.
Hatch, M. J. (1997). Organization Theory: Modern, Symbolic and Postmodern Perspectives. Oxford: Oxford
University Press.
Hedberg, B., Nystrom, P. and Starbuck, W. (1976). ‘Camping on seesaws: prescriptions for a selfdesigning organization’. Administrative Science Quarterly, 17, 371–81.
Hendry, C. (1996). ‘Understanding and creating whole organizational change through learning
theory’
Hirschhorn, L. (1988). The Workplace Within. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
House, J. S. (1993). ‘John R French, Jr: A Lewinian’s Lewinian’. Journal of Social Issues, 49, 4,
221–6.
Jaques, E. (1998). ‘On leaving the Tavistock Institute’. Human Relations, 51, 3, 251–7.
Continue Reading

Please join StudyMode to read the full document

You May Also Find These Documents Helpful

  • Planned Change Essay
  • Planned Approach to Change Is Still Relevant to Organization Essay
  • Planned Change Essay
  • POSSIBILITIES OF PLANNED ORGANIZATIONAL CLIMATE CHANGE Essay
  • Planned Organizational Change. Essay
  • Rational Approach of Organizational Change Essay
  • Essay about Planned and Emergent Approach Finding a Balance
  • Technology Change, Managing Change and Resistance to Change Essay

Become a StudyMode Member

Sign Up - It's Free