One fish jumping away from group into a new bowl with an accessibility icon in it (Change Management illustration for part 2)

Change Management for Accessibility: Lewin’s Three-Stage Model

Check out part one of this change management for accessibility blog series to get here to get caught up!

Change Management in an organization can be approached in many ways. Some strategies will apply to your organization and the change you are trying to implement better than others. Lewin’s three-stage model is a great baseline to consider.

Lewin proposed that the behavior of any individual in response to the proposed change is a function of group behavior and that any interaction or force affecting the group’s structure affects an individual’s behavior and capacity to change.

Infographic of Lewin's Change Model
Stage 1: Unfreeze. Create awareness, examine the status quo, communication!
Stage 2: Changing. Transition into the change, people are learning new behavior, processes, and thinking, address resistance and new ideas, education, communication, support, and time are keys for success.
Stage 3: Refreeze. Reinforce the new way of doing things, the change becomes the new status quo.

When trying to implement a process change, like including accessibility testing in your software delivery lifecycle, you need to think about the positive and negative ways the group and individual might see the change affecting them. If you are not addressing those concerns, you risk the success and the adoption of the change.

Another way to put it, Lewin recognized that there was an ability to which an individual could change that was related to how the change process was approached. The pros of this model are that it is very proactive and allows the change agent to control the shift. You can create sustainable changes that are part of your culture and people do not feel like they are in catch-up mode.

Stage 1: Unfreeze – Perception Management

The first stage is about deciding what needs to change, creating the need for it, and managing and understanding the doubts and concerns that people will have about the change. People naturally resist change.

The goal of this stage is to create an awareness of how the status quo is hindering the organization. For example, you might hear: “We don’t use accessibility testing in our SDLC today, so why should we?” The answer could be: “We are not reaching all our customers or providing solutions that all our customers need. This means we lose business, and our reputation might be tarnished. Our competitors are already implementing the accessibility process changes and we need to stay competitive.”

Old behaviors, ways of thinking, processes, people, and organizational structures must all be carefully examined to show employees how necessary change is for the organization. A lot of thought goes into the unfreeze stage, as you can see. Try to predict where the resistance might happen and address those things upfront.

One proactive approach could be surveying your team about their feelings about testing for accessibility. Then using the feedback from this survey, you can create a strategic change vision and strategy which will help you address their concerns from the onset. Communication is always essential, but it is especially important during the unfreezing stage.

The end goal is for employees to become informed about the imminent change, the logic behind it, and how it is going to benefit and affect them. The more they know about the change, the more likely they are to accept it and the more motivated they will be.

For example, “Implementing accessibility testing in our process means we find fewer accessibility bugs in production, which in turn means less work for the entire team.” For substantial changes to take hold, people at every level of the org need to understand why these changes are taking place.

With the top-down approach, the gap in understanding between the C-suite and entry-level employees is a whopping 31%, compared to an open-source change strategy where the gap shrinks to just 3% (Gartner, 2020).

Stage 2: Implementation of Change

In this stage, you will continue to do lots of communication about the change, how it is rolling out, and what needs to be done. You will dispel rumors, address concerns from the teams, and you will empower action. I would consider an agile and iterative approach in this stage, as it is a time that is marked with uncertainty and fear, making it the hardest step to overcome.

The more prepared the team members are for this step, the easier it is to complete. Continue to guide affected team members.

Back to our implementation of accessibility testing example, showcase that the team set up a test plan or completed the learning and share those wins.

Stage 3: Refreeze –  Anchor the Changes in Culture

The final stage in this model is “refreeze” – you are anchoring the changes into the culture. In this stage, you will develop ways to sustain the change, set up the feedback system, adjust the org structure wherever it is necessary, and celebrate success.

This is when the change you implemented becomes the new status quo. If you skip or do not complete this step, the organization can return to the old way of doing things. It is important to take time to review what you have accomplished so far, celebrate, and remember that rewards do not have to be monetary. For example, you can share photos of the team working together, making it fun. Lastly, it is important to resolve any outstanding issues.

Wrapping up Lewin’s model, it looks at change in basic terms; it encourages change leaders to find patterns or problems. When you have senior management, it works well. It will be imperative that you supply ways to continue upskilling and continuous training until the change is second nature. To change the culture of an organization, you must anchor the change in the culture itself.

It is important to note that the fewer phases in your change management strategy do not equate to a faster transition. The “Changing Stage” often is spread out over an extended period to overcome resistance and supply adequate training.

Case Study: Lewin’s Change Management Model and Accessibility

Here is one resistance to implementing accessibility that I hear all the time: “This seems like a lot of work for the team considering there are few people with disabilities that use our website.”

First, I want to point out that this statement is not true. One in four Americans self identifies having a disability and 15% of the world population reports the same. Using Lewin’s model, you will handle these kinds of reactions during the “Unfreeze Stage”.

You will proactively find out how your team will feel about changes so you can put together effective communication about what the change is and address their concerns proactively. You will correct any misconceptions they might have. Tell the team and individuals why the change is important and be clear about how it affects them.

Let that sink in and be your baseline and then come back for our next blog in which Michael Harshbarger, PMP, MSPM, CPACC will build up our change management toolkit by taking us through another strategy known as PDCA – Plan, Do, Check, Act.

Photo of Heidi Kelly-Gibson

About Heidi Kelly-Gibson

Heidi joined Deque in 2018, bringing with her two decades of experience in project management, customer success, and service. Most recently she is focused on her customer’s accessibility journeys and supporting them through the development and execution of their accessibility programs. Heidi is an avid blood donor, loves being the mother of three great young adults, a wife, a sister, a daughter, a friend. Heidi is seldom without her faithful furry companions: her beloved English Bulldog, Louie, and her sweet Labradoodle Rottweiler Mix, Luna.
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