Icebergs seem ubiquitous in the world of Continuous Improvement: there’s John Kotter’s change management fable ‘Our Iceberg is Melting’; the Iceberg model used by systems thinkers to get below the ‘surface’ events in order to understand the patterns, structures and mental models underneath; the famous Cost of Poor Quality iceberg that shows there are many hidden impacts of not getting it right beyond what we see at the tip of the iceberg. And I won’t mention (you’ll be relieved to know!) the thousands of icebreaking techniques used by CI facilitators and trainers to warm people up and get them comfortable for what’s to follow.
There’s also Kurt Lewin’s iceberg model which breaks change into three distinct phases – Unfreeze, Change, (Re)freeze. The phases address motivation for change, the change itself, and then the ‘internalisation’ of the change to embed a new normal. It feels particularly pertinent at the start of a new year when we’re thinking of breaking out of old habits and building and sustaining new ones.
Lewin’s iceberg model (also referred to as Change as Three Steps or CATS) dates back to the late 1940’s. It is clear and simple and has influenced succeeding models and frameworks associated with change.
In the first phase, unfreezing, we move away from the way things currently are. Of course, depending on the circumstances this may be easy or not, or desirable or not. Leaders play an important role in unfreezing when organisations are changing, as the need for change should be communicated clearly and well understood. Here they should be working to build the level of acceptance for change and communicating a compelling need. This is referred to as ‘creating a sense of urgency’ in the Kotter change management model (1996) and he later went on to write an entire book about it.
Having accepted and understood the need for change we go into the second phase – change – in an ‘unfrozen’ state where we’re ready to let go of old ways. Because we’re not frozen into a fixed position it’s possible to change shape. The change phase is not a one-off event but a process, as here we begin to get used to new ways of working or being. Leaders contribute in this phase by ensuring that communication is ongoing and support is available, and by providing role models for the ‘future state’. It’s not always easy and some trial and error can be expected.
And in the final phase, those new ways of working become embedded and accepted as the status quo. In the same way that we apply the Control phase in a Lean Six Sigma DMAIC project, the focus is on cementing the change and avoiding slipping back into old habits. Reinforcing positives and recognising efforts can support sustainability, as can addressing the old and unhelpful habits from the previous state.
If you’re entering 2020 with a resolution to do something better, the iceberg model might be helpful – it’s impossible to change if you’re frozen or locked firmly into old habits, and it’s difficult to sustain them if they’re still being formed and are not yet fully fixed in place.
But, whether the change we’re facing is an organisational one or a personal one, it is important to understand that re-freezing is not likely to be permanent. We’ll need to change again, and again. We probably won’t stay frozen in the new state for a long time. This is the spirit of continuous improvement!*
Re-freezing is reversable. Perhaps that’s why continuous improvement and change gurus talk about icebergs so much – ice can be changed to water or to vapour, depending on the heat! Things will continue to change, and we’ll want to unfreeze and change with them.
*So don’t worry too much about the whole ‘New Year, New You’ thing. Small improvements, and lots of them, whatever the time of year, are always advantageous.
This is the beginning of anything you want. Happy New Year!
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