The Organization Development Institute International, Latinamerica
Presidente: Eric Gaynor Butterfield
CHANGE REVISITED AS
David Coghlan, Ph.D.
Lewin’ s place as
the father figure of OD, both in terms of his personal influence and
his theoretical work, is generally presented in terms of his work on
action research, group dynamics, field theory and his stages of
change. Rarely is his work on re-education cited. Yet it is clear
that much of what he understood to be central to the complex process
of re-education is critical to the process of change and underlies
the philosophical principles and the practice of OD. This article
presents Lewin’s generally neglected paper on re-education in terms
of OD theory and practice so as to enable OD practitioners to build
on and use Lewin’s work.
to the theory and practice of planned change and organization
development has been well documented and described (French & Bell
1990, Burke 1994). This contribution is catalogued primarily in
terms of field theory, group dynamics, the T-group, the three stages
of change and action research. His famous Iowa experiments led to
his conceptualization that people change when they experience the
need for change (unfreezing), move to a new standard of behavior and
values (moving) and stabilize the change in normative behavior
(refreezing). He further asserts that change occurs given conditions
which emphasize reduction of those forces restraining change, rather
than an increase in the forces driving change (Lewin 1966): Lewin’s
work inspired and directly initiated the creation of an approach to
learning about groups, participation in groups, interpersonal
relations and change through action research, through the T-group
and its development into laboratory learning, which is a primary
antecedent of organization development. One particular paper of
Lewin’s, written with Paul Grabbe in 1945, has received relatively
little attention, apart from Benne’s exposition which reflected on
it in the light of the T-group and laboratory learning (Benne 1969).
In this paper, Lewin formulates ten general observations about the
process of re-education (Lewin 1973). They grew out of his attempts
to reflect on work he was engaged in with Alcoholics Anonymous and
other training programs.
Given that change
involves an unfreezing from presently held views in order to change
to new ones, a focus on change as a process of re-education which
involves unlearning in order to relearn is useful for OD
practitioners. In many consulting experiences, I have found that a
core element of what I was facilitating was a form of re-education -
from an individual focus to a team focus, abandonment of a fearful
attitude towards technology in order to allow retraining and
utilization of new technology, to cite two examples. In experiences
such as these, the OD consultant is grappling with a complex field
of perception, attitude, values, feelings and behaviors in an
individual. In addition to what may be going on in an individual
with respect to a change, there is the element of group membership
and the culture which has formed in the group with which an
individual may identify. Organization development, through its
grounding in a normative re-educative philosophy of change, has
traditionally worked with both the re-educative and group norm
elements of change (Chin & Benne 1969). As Lewin’s paper articulates
the dynamics of re-education in a way that his papers on change do
not, a re-visiting of some of the philosophical foundations for the
theory and practice of OD in terms of re-education is useful for OD
practitioners at a time when OD is under review.
PRINCIPLES OF RE-EDUCATION
1. “The processes
governing the acquisition of the normal and abnormal are
fundamentally alike” (Lewin 1973, p. 57).
Lewin is repudiating
the false distinction between so-called education for the normal and
therapy for the abnormal. He pioneered the experiential workshop in
which learning occurs through participation and reflection on the
“here and now” events of the group. While the T-group is no longer
used as an OD intervention, several of its key features remain
significant for the practice of OD. The first element is
action-research whereby the change process is a cycle of
intervention, understanding the effects of that intervention,
planning further interventions, and so on. The second element is the
role of the OD consultant, working as a process consultant to
facilitate self-understanding, learning and action by the client.
The process consultation model is directly derived from the role
performed by the T-group trainer (Schem 1990). The third element,
echoing Lewin’s own point, is that the change model is fundamentally
the .ame - that individuals have to experience the need for change,
create the conditions for change, make the change and ensure it
survives no matter what kind of change is under consideration (Schein
& Bennis 1965, Schein 1987a, Wheelan 1990, Rashford & Coghlan 1994).
re-educative process has to fulfil a task which is essentially
equivalent to a change in culture” (Lewin 1973, p. 59).
Lewin contends that
effective re-educatiOn involves acquiring values and new thinking to
match changes in conduct and behavior (the integration of these he
defines as “culture”). There are three elements in this re-educative
process: thought structures, values and beliefs, and behavior. He
emphasizes that the three elements require different approaches and
that a change agent must understand how they are different.
Re-education cannot be merely a rational process; knowledge of
itself is of little avail in changing outlook and conduct. In the
Iowa experiments where attempts to change meat-eating habits through
both a lecture approach and a participative group discussion
approach were used, findings indicated that the lecture approach
failed, whereas the participative group discussion approach effected
the necessary change (Lewin 1966).
In situations of
organizational change, exhortations and explanations do not suffice
for people to change. The development of OD has been built around
the experience that the process of change in organizations typically
involves working with the informal organization as much as the
formal, dealing with attitudinal and emotional as well as cognitive
issues and taking account of how individuals, teams, the
interdepartmental group and the organization form four inter-related
and inter-dependent levels (Rashford & Coghlan 1994). Organization
development is fundamentally an experiential approach to helping
change take place, built on the scientific model of action research
As Schein (1992)
points out, culture in organizations is not simply the visible or
audible artifacts, nor even the stated values, but exists as basic
assumptions which have been formed in the organization’s history,
which have been handed on and which are out of consciousness because
they have become taken for granted. The basic assumptions govern
ways of thinking about particular issues and problems, ways of
relating and behavior. So the process of changing culture in
organizations is complex as it involves uncovering what the basic
assumptions are held by the organization as a whole, by sub-groups
within the organization and how these assumptions are manifested in
thought processes and behavior.
extensive first-hand experience does not automatically create
correct concepts” (Lewin 1973, p. 60).
As Lewin points out,
centuries of the experience of falling bodies did not create a
theory of gravity. Experiencing alone does not create learning. He
is challenging those who, while reacting against the
intellectual-lecture approach, place the emphasis on experiencing
only. For Lewin, learning involves a combination of (a) experience,
(b) reflection on that experience, (c) a theoretical perspective to
enable the generalization and grounding of this reflection and (d)
experimentation in ongoing situations (Koib 1984). Lewin pioneered
the notion of action-research as a form of social experimentation,
whereby research was taken out of the laboratory and applied to
every day problems and issues (Argyris, Putnam & Smith 1985, Schein
1987b, Argyris 1993).
I have already
discussed how OD is the fruit of action research - a philosophy of
how to be helpful to client systems by working with them to
understand what is going on and how to help change happen. Each step
in the change process, each intervention creates new information
which must be understood to try to see wh th. next step might be and
so on. The scientific base of OD is grounded in such an ongoing
process of action, reflection on that action, creating hypotheses on
the basis of an understanding out of that reflection and taking
action to test those hypotheses (Schein 1989). Through OD, an
organization is not only changing but also learning about change and
learning to learn about change.
4. “Social action
no less than physical action is steered by perception” (Lewin 1973,
The world in which
we act is how we perceive it. Changes in knowledge, values and
beliefs won’t result in changes in behavior unless it is grounded in
changed perception of the self and situations. For Lewin, the
primary task of re-education involves a change in the person’s
In the process of
organizational change, an individual’s response is determined by
that individual’s perception of the change and an assessment of its
impact on him or her. Perception is formed by the amount of
information available, the degree of psychological participation,
the degree of control and the degree of trust in the change
initiators (Lippitt 1973). For the process consultant, understanding
the internal frame of reference of the individual is a prerequisite
to working with the client system to assess the progress or
otherwise of the change and to respond appropriately to the issues
which are emerging at any given time (Schein 1987a, 1988, Coghlan
5. “As a rule the
possession of correct knowledge does not suffice to rectify false
perceptions” (Lewin 1973, p. 61).
While Lewin is clear
that theory alone does not bring about change and comments that
resistance to change is often seen only in emotional terms, he is
not underestimating the difficulties in changing cognition. He
comments that racial prejudice may persist, even with favorable
experiences of members of another race.
Resistance to change
typically has a cognitive and emotional component. Members of an
organization may define the change problem and possible solutions
differently to those promoting one particular form of solution. The
change process may involve a series of collective bargaining as to
what changes, where and at whose expense. At the same time, there
may be many who are threatened by change, who are fearful and
anxious and require a form of response which works within the frames
of those emotional states (Coghlan 1993). In the cognitive domain,
Argyris (1990) grounds resistance to change in the psychological
structure of organizations as low in openness, trust, and risk
taking, and high in conformity and mistrust, from which carefully
built and brilliantly concealed defensive routines (what Argyris
refers to as “fancy footwork”) are created. As managers propagate
and build systems to maintain these defensive routines, the
propensity to resist change is increased.
stereotypes (prejudices) are functionally equivalent to wrong
concepts (theories)” (Lewin 1973, p.62).
Lewin is arguing, in
respect to incorrect stereotyping, that experiencing as such is
inadequate to change a person or group’s theory of the world. People
move from a position of stereotyping when they involve themselves in
a process of self-experimentation with regard to their own and
alternatives ways of explaining the world.
Argyris’ work, as
outlined previously, attempts to deal with this issue. By enabling
managers to understand their own “theory-in-use”, that is, the
assumptions governing their behavior, an OD consultant facilitates
individuals to understand the effects of their action and
reformulate the thinking processes which govern their actions (Schein
1987a, Argyris 1993). As Argyris argues forcibly, this is an
experiential process and does not work by individuals simply wanting
to do it. On the group level, Schein (1992) works in a process
consultation mode to enable a group to uncover the cultural
assumptions which govern its behavior and which are out of
consciousness because they have been passed on from generation to
generation and are taken for granted.
7. “Changes in
sentiments do not necessarily follow changes in cognitive
structures” (Lewin 1973, p.62).
In Lewin’s view, the
individual’s real and total involvement in the change process is a
significant factor in confronting this issue. Change in how a person
feels about any situation is integrally linked to that individual’s
degree of involvement. Thus, active involvement entails attitudinal,
affective, cognitive and behavioral aspects of that person.
One of the main
tenets of OD over the years has been that involvement reduces
resistance. This tenet is grounded in Lewin’s Iowa experiments, the
humanistic psychology tradition which has influenced the development
of OD and in numerous research findings. Internalization of change
values, in contrast with mere compliance, requires attitudinal,
cognitive and behavioral congruence (Kelman 1969).
8. “A change in
action-ideology, a real acceptance of a changed set of facts and
values, a change in the perceived social world - all three are but
different expressions of the same process” (Lewin 1973, p.64).
Lewin is making the
point that changes in values, perception and behavior form an
integrated pattern for the individual - what he calls a change in
culture. Since action is guided by perception, a change in behavior
presupposes that new facts and values are perceived and that these
values are not merely aspired to, but are acted upon (what he refers
to as action-ideology). The re-educative process needs to support
this integration of perception, values and behavior and not create a
tension between new and old values for the individual. The manner in
which change is introduced is critical. If a new set of values and
beliefs is autocratically enforced, loyalty to the old values and
hostility to the new tend to be created. How then can the acceptance
of a new system of values be brought about if the person is likely
to be hostile to the new values and be attached to the old values?
For Lewin, voluntary attendance, freedom of expression in voicing
opinions and disagreement, avoidance of pressure are key issues.
In OD, resistance to
change is a positive force and must be taken seriously (Nevis 1987,
Coghlan 1993). It is an opportunity for the change agents to gain a
further insight into the force field, to see that there are areas
which they possibly had not anticipated and to understand that the
change process is indeed complex. In short, the experience of
changing generates its own learning about the organization and about
the process of change itself.
9. “Acceptance of
the new set of values and beliefs cannot usually be brought about
item by item” (Lewin 1973, p.66).
In Lewin’s view,
methods and procedures to change convictions item by item are of
little avail; they don’t lead to a change of thought, values and
behavior. Arguments proceeding logically from one point to another
tend to drive the individual into a corner and so be more resistant.
While step-by-step methods are important they must be conceived as
steps in gradual change from defensiveness to openness rather than a
conversion one point at a time. Accordingly, the approach to
re-education needs overall planning. A value system is a system with
its own integrity. If it is to perform its function of helping
people maintain their identity then its integrity must be
development’s focus on systemic change and the system ramifications
of any intervention encourages the formulation of an integrated
approach to planned organizational change. Such an approach attempts
to take account of how in a system everything is related and
everything is affected. Accordingly, diagnosis of what kind of
change is required in what parts of the organization in order to
move the organization to a desired future and how that change
process involves a complex movement across four organizational
levels requires an integrated systemic approach (Beckhard & Harris
1987, Beckhard & Pritchard 1992, Rashford & Coghlan 1994).
individual accepts the new system of values and beliefs by accepting
belongingness to a group” (Lewin 1973 p.67).
Lewin’s assertion is
that the chances of re-education are increased within the group
context, whereby an individual’s identification with a group
coincides with the group’s acceptance of new values and beliefs.
One of Lewin’s close
associates, Cartwright, has drawn together much of the research on
how groups function in relation to change (Cartwright 1989). As a
source of influence on their members, groups are a significant
medium of change. The chances of change seem to be increased when a
group’s members have a strong sense of belonging to the same group.
The more attractive the group is to its members the greater the
influence the group can exert over its members. In attempts to
change attitudes, values and behavior the more relevant the values,
attitudes and behaviors are to the basis of attraction to the group
the greater influence the group can exert on them, as instanced when
a union executive seeks support for action on issues of conditions
of employment. The greater the prestige of a group member in the
eyes of other members the greater the influence he/she can exert.
Efforts to change individuals/sub-parts of a group, which if
successful would result in making them deviate from the group norms,
will encounter resistance.
Lewin’s point in
this regard has been the basis for much of the subsequent work done
on the role of culture in regard to change and on the role of groups
and teams as key leverage points for change in organization
development (French & Bell 1990, Schein 1992, Coghlan 1994).
development is constantly being reviewed as it moves through its
fourth decade towards a new century, a re-articulation of the
conceptual roots on which it is based and on which its values are
formed is both valuable and useful for OD practitioners. Lewin’s
place as the father figure of OD, both in terms of his personal
influence and his theoretical work, is without question. At the same
time, his theoretical influence is generally restricted to his work
on action research, group dynamics, field theory and his stages of
change. Rarely is his work on re-education cited. Yet it is clear
that much of what he understood to be central to the complex process
of re-education underlies the philosophical principles and the
practice of OD and ought to be more readily known and utilized by OD
practitioners. As change continues to pervade all aspects of life
and we continually have to unlearn what ceases to work or be useful,
particularly as OD practitioners, an understanding of the process of
re-education as a core element of changing is essential.
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