Friday, October 14, 2011

Lewin and Historical Traces to Change Management

It is often good to trace the historical threads from where certain concepts originate.  One concept, change management, is one such concept that is worth remembering in today’s complex environment.  

Kurt Lewin is often identified as the father of social psychology with contributions to the theory and practice of planned change (Coghlan, Brannick, 2003).  Lewin added to the scientific management practices of Frederick Taylor by adding the human dimension.  This shifted managements focus from scientific management to a social-psychological way of thinking (Gilley, Dean, & Bierema, 2001). Papanek (1973) identified Lewin’s concept of job enrichment:

The worker wants his work to be rich, wide, and Protean, not crippling and narrow.  Work should not limit personal potential but develop it.  Work can involve love, beauty, and the soaring joy of creating.  Progress, in that case, does not mean shortening the work day, but an increase in the human value of the work (p. 318).

Through work from the Harwood studies, Lewin developed the following core elements to action research:
  1. Understanding the interplay between the work environment and the individual worker is critical for change in organizations.
  2. To understand the system, you must first seek to change it.  Lewin called this action research.
  3. Wed scientific thinking to democratic values for organizational change (Gilley et al., 2001, p. 145).
The core philosophy behind Lewin’s planned approach to change focused on changing group behavior rather than changing individual behavior.  This planned change took the form of action research which can be viewed as an eight-step processes:
  1. Entry
  2. Start-up
  3. Assessment and Feedback
  4. Action Planning
  5. Intervantion
  6. Evaluation
  7. Adoption
  8. Separation (Rothwell, & Sullivan, 2005, p. 43).
Action research should be viewed as a systematic way of thinking embedded in a cyclical process of questioning, assessing, investigating, collaborating, analyzing, and refining (Schoen, 2007).


Coghlan, D., & Brannick, T. (2003). Kurt Lewin: The “practical theorist” for the 21st century. Irish Journal of Management, 24(2), 31-37. Retrieved from ABI/INFORM Global (Document ID: 650633441).

Gilley, J. W., Dean, P. J., & Bierema, L. L. (2001). Philosophy and practice of organizational learning, performance, and change. Cambridge, MA: Perseus.

Papanek, M. L. (1973). Kurt Lewin and his contributions to modern management theory. Academy of Management Proceedings, 317-322. doi: 10.5465/AMBPP.1973.4981410

Rothwell, W. J., & Sullivan, R. (2005). Practicing organization development: A guide for consultants (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer.

Schoen, S. (2007). Action research: A developmental model of professional socialization. Clearing House, 80(5), 211-216. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.
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