Understanding Change

Factsheet - ISSN 1198-712X   -   Copyright Queen's Printer for Ontario
Agdex#: 057
Publication Date: 02/91
Order#: 91-014
Last Reviewed: 11/97
History: Reprinted January 1992, March 1997 
Written by: Rita Byvelds - OMAFRA; Joanne Newman - OMAFRA

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction  
  2. Forces for Change
  3. Strategies for Successful Change
  4. The Change Process
  5. Summary
  6. References


Change, like death and taxes, is one thing of which we can be certain.

Are all changes bad? Change can be uncomfortable and awkward but it can also be positive. Marriage, the birth of a child and a job promotion are often happy changes which are easier to accept than some negative changes such as divorce or death. Whether a change is good or bad, it requires an individual or organization to adjust and deal with the change.

Nothing remains the same - even organizations must change. We have all witnessed change: membership fluctuations, increases or decreases in funding, and new projects reflecting new needs of the members. If the organization does not respond to change, it will struggle and eventually die.

Organizations need to acknowledge that changes are happening and must adapt to them.

Forces for Change

Change in an organization is influenced by two opposing forces: One that drives for change and one that resists.

Which of the following forces affect your organization?

Check the ones which apply to your group.

Driving Forces

Driving forces initiate change and keep it going. They may be external and internal.

  • Your source of funding is being reduced or increased.
  • The interests and needs of the people in your community are changing.
  • Government support is increased or diminished.
  • There is pressure to use modern technology.
  • Members have different views of the group's purpose.
  • When proojects or programs are evaluated, a need to change is identified.
  • Membership is increasing or dropping.

Resisting Forces

Resisting forces act against the driving forces for change. They are usually internal.

  • Your group fears new ideas and prefers to do things the way they have always been done.
  • Your group functions the same way it did 20 years ago, out of habit.
  • Your group performs activites just for the sake of keeping busy.
  • Your group's executive has very few changes or low turnover.

Strategies for Successful Change

There may be one or many driving forces initiating change in your organization. Groups will usually respond to a driving force by showing resistance. If you push, people push back.

Resistance to Change is Normal and Can Be Expected

Change is more easily accepted by decreasing resisting forces rather than by increasing the driving forces. An adult may attempt to force a child to eat vegetables by threatening the child. The driving force is the fear of punishment. Force feeding is likely to result in increased resistance or the food being spit out. Success will only come by removing the resisting force. The child may not eat vegetables because they taste bad. The change strategy might be to coat the vegetables with good tasting cheese or chocolate.

The following strategies can be used to decrease the resisting forces to change in any organization.


Communication: Provide adequate information to your members on the need for change in order to gain their support. Make the purpose of the change clear. Fear of change can be as disturbing as the change itself.

Participation: Involve everyone in planning and making the change. It is much easier to support something you have a stake in. If possible, committees using small groups of people should be set up to review and make recommendations for change. Surveys and newsletters are also tools that can be used.

Support: Be prepared to spend extra time with members who have difficulty accepting the change. Ensure that you, as the person initiating the change, are seen as trustworthy and credible.

Negotiation: Work out a win/win situation for all parties involved. Match the personal goals of the members to the objectives of the change. The change will be resisted if it blocks personal goals.

The Change Process

The following model for change can be used to understand and plan for change. It uses the analogy of an ice cube to explain the change process of an organization.

The ice cube in its original shape represents the current state of the organization. In order to change, the ice cube must be unfrozen, moulded to its new shape, and then, refrozen. Similarly the organization, in order to change positively, must melt any forces which resist change and create a climate of acceptance and trust that will reinforce or refreeze the new state of the organization.

Unfreezing/Refreezing Model For Change


Recognize the need for change by identifying driving and resisting forces


arrow pointing to change

Change is implemented through a strategy which decreases resisting forces.


arrow pointing to refreezing

Reinforce new behaviour and be open to feedback.


The following example of a fee increase in an organization builds on this concept:

Change Model For Organization Fee Increase - Proposal for fee increase


Identify driving and resisting forces.

Driving Forces
  • increased expenses
  • decreased external funding
  • dropping membership
Resisting Forces
  • cannot afford it
  • increase not justifiable

Communicate need for fee increase to membership:

  • Get small group of individuals committed to increased fees to help
  • Devote extra energy to those who have difficulty accepting the fee increase
  • Negotiate better services for increased fees

Fee increase accepted


Keep communication lines open

  • Reinforce the change by communicating positive results of the change
  • Celebrate success in the organization - thank members for commitment
Once a change has been accepted and implemented by a group, the initiators of the change must keep working with the members and emphasize the positive effects of the change. If this is not done, the group may slowly lapse into its old habits. The whole process of unfreezing-change-refreezing may take a long period of time.


Organizations constantly encounter forces driving them to change. Because change means doing something new and unknown, the natural reaction is to resist it. Change strategies such as communicating with resisting members and involving them, reduce resistance to change.

Changes do not need to be radical; rather, small changes introduced often are better than large changes rarely introduced.

Use the attached working model to plan your strategy for understanding and dealing with change.

"Organizations which either fail to understand the need for change or are inept in their ability to deal with change will fade and fall behind, if they survive at all." - Kanter


The Force Field Problem Solving Model. Glaser, Rollin. Kurt Lewin. Organizational Design and Development, Inc., 1988.

Organization Theory - Structure, Designs and Applications. Robbins, Stephen. Second Edition, Prentice-Hall Inc., 1987.

Unfreezing/Refreezing Model For Change

Change to be implemented: ______________________________________________________________


What are the forces affecting the change?

Driving Forces:




Resisting Forces:





What change strategy will you use?


















How can you reinforce the positive results?




For more information:
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E-mail: ag.info.omafra@ontario.ca