Comparison of Three Major Change Models

In organisation Development, three Change Models are widely used and integrated in various ways, to help plan, understand and implement effective change.


Lewin’s Planned Change Model

Lewin’s model gives a simple overview of what all change entails.  It is based on the underlying assumption that any condition exists because of competing forces that are in equilibrium.  In order to effect any change, some of these forces have to be adjusted.

The unfreezing process is therefore a process of disturbing the forces.  This can be done in a variety of ways, and the other two methods typically start off by beginning to weaken some of the forces that currently hold things in place, by e.g. pointing out certain organisational weaknesses, or by pointing out the potential for improvement in certain areas.  It could also focus on strengthening forces that would support movement in the direction that the organisation wants to move.

The movement process is then the process of implementing the necessary change.  The underlying philosophy of force fields, would imply that movement will happen almost automatically, once the force fields are adjusted – in fact, the movement becomes inevitable.  Understanding this model and its underlying concepts therefore helps us understand why the other change models are effective in overcoming resistance to change, and in creating an environment that is conducive to permanent change.

The refreezing process happens once the desired state has been reached.  When the desired state is reached, the forces that are holding this new state in equilibrium are again identified, and now reinforced or “frozen” into place through a variety of actions.

We can therefore see that the model’s weakness could be said to be that it is not detailed in terms of practical application.  However it is widely used to help us understand what planned change methods are accomplishing, and why they work.  Understanding why a method works, is normally critical to the implementing of it in such a way that it actually DOES work.

Action Research Model

The Action Research Model has two major phases.  A preliminary or preparatory phase, and then a cycle phase. 

  • In the preliminary phase, the problem is first identified.  The word problem can be misleading, as the problem could be a problem, or an opportunity that needs to be exploited.  So it refers to the fact that something which needs to be changed, is identified.
  • Consultation is then held with a behavioural science expert, for example an OD consultant, an organisational psychologist, or someone similar who can shed light on typical causes and solutions for such a problem, based on certain existing models.  This consultation leads to the planning of a method for diagnosis.
  • Data is then gathered and analysed, and a preliminary diagnosis is done.
  • This data and the diagnosis is now fed back to the key client or key group.
  • We now see the importance of participation coming into play, as the behavioural expert at this point would begin to serve the role of facilitator in assisting the client to interpret the data and come to some conclusions.  Jointly, the OD practitioner and the client now diagnose the problem.
  • From this joint diagnosis, flows a joint action planning session.
  • The actions are implemented and …
  • Data is again gathered, to measure whether the implementation was successful, and whether the implementation had the desired effect.  This data is again fed back to the client, and the cycle from there is repeated.
  • This process is repeated until the implementation has been successful, the outcomes are what was required, and the new state has been institutionalised.

You will see therefore that this process can be seen as having an unfreezing phase.  By identifying a need for change, collecting data to confirm and detail the changes needed, and letting the client work with this data and make these discoveries for himself, forces that keep the current equilibrium are beginning to be adjusted.

A movement is then created through the planning and implementation of action, and the movement is sustained through the cycle of evaluation, planning, doing, evaluation, planning and doing.

Finally, a refreezing takes place once it is confirmed that things are now the way they should be.

The weakness of the Action Research model is that it doesn’t specifically have a positive approach.  Organisations could use the Action Research model and remain very much problem oriented, always identifying and solving their problems, without really moving forward and becoming more than what they currently are.

To overcome this weakness, when using the Action Research Model, there should be a strong focus on not only identifying a problem but on identifying a strong compelling alternative future, to replace the problem.

The Positive Model

The Positive Model, as it names implies, has its roots in the positive mentality that things can be better, and that things are already good.  Therefore it does not need a problem to require initiation, but rather, can be initiated at any time in the expectation that things could be better.

  • The first step is therefore simply initiating an enquiry.  Often, this enquiry will not be very specific.  It could be a team wanting to improve in some area, or it could be an organisation identifying that it needs to improve something, e.g. profitability or market share – but it might not be sure what to change.
  • The services of an expert, together with research of the organisation and other organisations are utilised to identify the things that the organisation has done really well, in the past.  It could be compared to a story telling process where organisation members tell stories of the things they’d done really well.
  • These success stories are then analysed to identify the organisation’s major strengths.  Themes of strengths are then discovered.
  • Based on these strengths, the organisation designs for itself an ideal future.
  • The organisation then designs ways to achieve that future, and implements those plans.

This model is applied primarily through the concept of Appreciative Enquiry – which relates to the idea of identifying what is already strong, and building further on to that. It is supported by research relating to Expectation Theory.  All of this could be summarised in a belief and understanding that a person or organisation would have the most impact in the areas of its strength – and should therefore develop primarily in those areas, and that people are more motivated to produce superior results by a desire for positive than simply trying to reduce the negative.

The weakness of the positive model lies in the fact that there could be some major problems hindering it from executing some of its strengths, or from achieving the desired future.  Because it is not problem-focused, these might not be noticed.

To overcome this weakness, a more comprehensive diagnostic method needs to be added to it, rather than to be only looking for strengths.


Combining the Action Research Model with the Positive model as a model of planned change, works well, and using Lewin’s model of planned change to identify the three major phases and understand what each phase is trying to achieve, also works well.

Therefore, having these three models, and integrating them and using them together, seems to be the most effective way to implement planned change.


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6 Responses to Comparison of Three Major Change Models

  1. Sasha-Gaye Lawson says:

    Useful information for exam preparation.

  2. Milton Poudyal says:

    Does the positive model of planned change focuses on core competencies?

  3. Milton Poudyal says:

    Does the positive model of planned change focuses on core competencies?

    Thank you

  4. Ashton says:

    Hi Milton,

    It doesn’t specifically focus on core competencies, but it can. It is a more general outline of a process to follow. The “themes” and “best practices” sections can focus on core competencies, or, maybe more effectively it can focus on the “hedgehog” concept of the business – as per Jim Collins.

    Hope this helps?

  5. Lisa says:

    Do you have any references for this essay?

  6. Ashton says:

    I haven’t really thought about that – but I would say it does. Core competencies and organisational strengths would provide a guideline for identifying directions of development which would be suitable to your current organisation.

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