Unfreezing techniques – getting ready for change

Unfreezing techniques! Unfreezing is the first of Lewin’s change stages

Unfreezing techniques are not generally well understood! Unfreezing is the first of unfreezing techniquesLewin’s change stages (the Square). This is about getting people ready to accept change. You need some way of readying people for change in whatever Change Model you apply. The techniques below need to be applied with care and they are best used in combination. I have included what I regard as recommended approaches. Not included is “Command – just telling them they are going to change and expecting obedience. Nor is  the “Burning Platform” – ‘the platform is burning so we must jump’ approach. Those two techniques, I regard as cop-outs in most circumstances. Although they may have their place in a crisis – see the Evidence point below!


Done well, visions work to create change. Visions work when they act to motivate and inspire the large numbers of people who are needed to make the change happen. To be motivating,  the vision must be memorable. For it to be memorable, it is usually surprising and short. To be surprising, it should be different from everyone else’s vision. If it is to be believed, it must be a regular part of the conversation of senior people.


Inspire people to achieve remarkable things. Stimulate people into change by challenging them to achieve something remarkable. Show confidence in their ability to get out of their comfort zone and do what has not been done before. This works particularly well with small groups, as well as individuals. Once the group has bought the challenge they will bounce off each other to make it happen.  The approach is most effective when the people create their own stretch goals.  So, rather than telling them to do something, challenge them to achieve. Then, when they are fired up, ask them how far they can go.


Cold, hard, data is difficult to ignore.  Say you have incontrovertible evidence staring you in the face. For example, the numbers are showing the company in the red or sales sinking into the sunset. Then, it is difficult to put your head in the sand and wish it away.  Cold, hard, evidence is a good way of changing minds. Counter-arguments require better data of sufficient strength to show your data as invalid.

Education and training

There is a gentler way of helping people see the need for change. This is by educating them about why change is necessary and how change can be managed. You could include presentations, communications and full-on training sessions.

Use of  Objectives

This means you agree with people what to do, but not how.  You set formal objectives that they are committed to achieve. But you do not tell them how they have to achieve them. In particular, if you can, give people objectives that they can only achieve by working in the intended change. Set a goal or formal objective that requires them to change.


You can redesign the organisation to force behaviour change. Just as function follows form, so will change follow the re-shape.  It will change how people behave. Newly formed groups that can cohere into separate units are more likely to become very internally motivated. Motivation is good, but the internal facing can be away from the organisation. So you must ensure that group goals are aligned. This is, for example, by regular external communications.

Rites of passage

Hold a wake to help let go of the past.  A wake is a party that is held to celebrate the life of someone who has died. It can also mean something to symbolise letting go of the past. Among unfreezing techniques this is often missed. When a change is completed, celebrate with a party or some other ritualised recognition. Mark the passing of a key milestone. You can also start a change with a wake – some kind of key event. Create new rituals to help shift the culture to a new form. Use these, if possible, to replace the rituals that already exist.

You need some way of readying people for change in whatever change model you apply. The unfreezing techniques described here work and they are best used in combination.

You will find a post on managing the next stage of change; Managing Transition here

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 “Unfreezing techniques – getting ready for change”

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

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