Embedding change: how to refreeze successfully

Embedding change: how to refreeze successfully

Refreezing is the third of Lewin’s change transition stages. This is where people are taken from a state of being in transition and moved to a productive, healthy state that is stable. It means embedding change successfully. Embedding change takes time and needs leadership and support!

The three stages of change identified by psychologist Kurt Lewin are the basis of most Embedding changechange management approaches today. They are very easy to understand – unfreeze, transition, re-freeze! Recently I wrote here about how to unfreeze and transition. This post deals with ensuring your change you made is truly embedded in the organisation.

Embedding Change

Here are techniques to ensure your change is truly successful.

Evidence stream

Show your people time and again that the change is real. This means providing a steady stream of evidence of results. It “proves” that the change has happened and is successful.  So, you could plan for change projects to reach milestones and deliver real results to a regular and predictable timetable. This would be accompanied by a stream of regular communications that is also delivered on a well-managed timetable. And it is the opposite of planning for an early ‘big bang’ followed by a long period of relative silence.

You should communicate through a range of media. Get people who have been involved to stand up and tell their stories of challenge and overcoming adversity. And, ensure the communications reach everyone involved, and do so over and over again.  Keep posters and data charts up to date. Regularly show progress, demonstrating either solid progress against plan or robust action to address any slippage.


Build the change into your formal systems and structures. The formal systems and structures within the organisation are those which are not optional. So, people do them because they are ‘business as usual’ and they will be criticised or otherwise punished if they fail to do them. After a while, institutionalised items become so entrenched, people forget to resist. And they just do what is required, even if they do not agree with them.  So you can make make changes stick by building them into the formal fabric of the organization. For example:

  • Build them into the systems of standards – “this the way we do things here!”
  • Put them, or elements of them, into the primary strategic plan.
  • Build them into people’s personal objectives including the CEO.
  • Ensure people are assessed against them in personal reviews.
  • Reward people for following the “house rules.”

New challenge

Get them looking to the future. One of the key things that makes people happy is challenge. In particular, people who have discovered this get hooked on the buzz and fall into the psychological flow of getting deeply engaged. Challenge is a future-based motivator that focuses people on new and different things. This is rather than basic motivations such as control and safety that may lead people to resist change. So, get people to maintain interest in a change by giving them new challenges, related to the change. Stimulate them and keep them looking to the future.

Reward alignment

Align rewards with desired behaviours. A surprisingly common trap in change is to ask (or even demand) that people change. Yet the reward system that is driving their behaviour is not changed. For example, requesting teamwork and rewarding individuals rather than teams.  Many people are driven by extrinsic rewards, and the saying; ‘show me how I’m paid and I’ll show you how I behave,’ is surprisingly common.  So, when you make a change, ensure that you align the reward system with the changes that you want to happen.

Rites of passage

Use formal rituals to confirm change. Rituals are symbolic acts to which we attribute significant meaning. A celebration to mark a change is used in many cultures; ranging from rites of passage to manhood for aboriginal tribes to the wedding ceremonies of Christian and other religions. Such ritual passages are often remembered with great nostalgia, and even the remembrance of them becomes ritualised.  When a change is completed, celebrate with a party or some other ritualised recognition of the passing of a key milestone.

You can also start a change with a wake (which is a party that is held to celebrate the life of someone who has died) to symbolise letting go of the past.  Create new rituals to help shift the culture to a new form. If possible, replace the rituals that already exist with new ways of behaving.


Build your change into the social fabric. Society is almost invisible and people accept its rules without even noticing that they are doing so. A change that is socialised becomes normal and the ‘way things are’. When something becomes a social norm, people will be far more unlikely to oppose it as to do so is to oppose the group and its leaders. So, seal changes by building them into the social structures. Give social leaders prominent positions in the change. And, when they feel ownership for it, they will talk about it and sell it to others.

Golden handcuffs

Make sure you put rewards into your team’s middle-term future. If loyalty and the joy of the job are not enough to keep people, they may need some financial or other rewards. However, this can re-bound. Paying them today could still lead them to leave. But, the promise of future reward, may be enough to keep them engaged. The promised rewards cannot be too far out or they will not be enticing. Usually, reasonable rewards need to be within a twelve-month time-frame. The risk is that when a reward is gained, this could still be a point at which the person leaves. If you want them to stay, you may need to keep a rolling “handcuff” system.

Wendy Smith is a career consultant, life coach and business coach with depth of experience in management, coaching and personal development. That experience means she is equally at home helping clients find a new career direction, starting-up new businesses or dealing with life’s more challenging personal issues. You can contact her at wendy@wisewolfcoaching.com

Wendy has written a little eBook on how to get on with your boss and a book on job search – you can find her books on Amazon at this link


One thought on “Embedding change: how to refreeze successfully”

  1. Pingback: Bewildered by the change you have to make – here is help! | Wisewolf Talking – the simple approach to change!

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