Organizations in the developed modern world experience workforce challenges, financial constraints, changing consumer demands and expectations, and mandates to deliver quality services. Healthcare costs have risen in significant margins, reimbursement decreased, new technologies, and the elderly population has grown significantly in the healthcare setting. It is, therefore, crucial for healthcare organizations to adopt and embrace new strategies to enable them to retain high-standard service delivery. However, according to Marquis & Huston (2017), managing change effectively is one of the most challenging issues among healthcare organizations. While organizational change is essential, not all of them are a success. The success or failure of organizational change depends on factors such as the reason for the change, the willingness of the people within the organization to change, the process of change, and the organization’s context. Lewin’s change theory adequately facilitates the successful implementation of organizational change.
Types of Change
The two types of change that occur within different organizations are: change by drift and planned change. Change by drift refers to the small changes that happen over time without intentional or purposeful leadership. Therefore, the administration of these organizations lacks control over the situation. These changes are often invisible when observed within relatively close time points but are clearly visible if looked at, at two somewhat distant points in time. In the years before the 1900s, most people appreciated this type of change and remained reluctant to implement organizational change (Marquis & Huston, 2017). They let nature run its course, regardless of the consequences.
On the other hand, planned change refers to the type of change where the leadership of an organization is intentional and initiates the changes. People began to look away from change by drift in the 1950s, with social scientists such as Kurt Lewin innovating approaches that encouraged people to think and be more intentional about change and the appropriate strategies to execute it. Healthcare organizations, among others, became more aware of the importance of the human relations aspect in business (Dinh et al., 2020). It was therefore paramount that they started initiating changes that would address the social interaction of their employees to ensure they remained motivated and productive. Further, with the healthcare organizations growing, technology advancing, and the patient population’s demands changing, they were forced to recognize the need for change, plan for interventions, and maintain change.
Kurt Lewin’s Model of Change Theory
Kurt Lewin propounded a simple framework that he used to explain the process of organizational change. His model comprises three stages that have remained relevant from the 1950s to the modern world. The stages Lewin discussed are: unfreeze, change (transition) and refreeze. Unfreezing is the first stage, where the change agent creates awareness about the need for change and the reason for its urgency to everybody within the organization. In this stage, people become discontented and may begin to resist the change (Hussain et al., 2018). People are reluctant to move away from their comfort zone to fear the unknown future. Effective communication is crucial to achieving high levels of willingness to change, support, and involvement of all the people required to be successful.
The second stage is change, where the leadership of the organization implements the set strategies. This stage involves ensuring that the driving forces outweigh the restraining ones and accepting new ways of doing things. The change agents’ leadership skills such as effective communication, planning, and working together with and convincing the employees are paramount. The leaders need to remain focused, influence, and help their employees understand the need for change. Otherwise, they are bound to resist, and lack of involvement in this process would make it impossible to succeed (Hussain, Lei, Akram, Haider, Hussain, & Ali, 2018). The final stage is refreezing, regarded as the state of equilibrium. At this point, the organization is more stable, and people have accepted the changes and begun to create new relationships. Management must keep the employees motivated to strengthen and reinforce the newly implemented strategies. Motivation should be done through rewards, recognizing them publicly for good done, and creating policies and structures that cater to their well-being. Therefore, Kurt Lewin’s Model of Change Theory is relevant to the healthcare industry’s reorganization and transformation.
Application of Kurt Lewin’s Model of Change Theory in Healthcare Management during the COVID-19 Pandemic
In addition to the economic forces, government policies, technology, employers, and patients as the driving forces of change in the healthcare industry, COVID-19 pushed the industry to make significant and rapid changes. In 2020 when the virus struck, it altered the existing healthcare relationships that seriously paralyzed healthcare services, causing stress among leaders, patients, and workers. The delivery of services was disrupted, with both the healthcare providers and patients putting off elective services and deferred others for fear of transmitting or contracting the virus (Johnson & Walston, 2021). The industry needed to adjust urgently as more people died and required professional care. The World Health Organization (WHO) rolled out strategies that they believed would slow down the spread of the disease. Healthcare facilities were also required to strategize on how to handle the pandemic, which resulted in most workers losing their jobs.
The organization had scarce information about the disease at first but effectively and instantly communicated every new finding to the public. Their first step was to pass information across the globe and make the masses understand the need to change their ways of life drastically. They then stated the recommendations, such as masks and total lockdown, that they believed would help stop its spread. The second step was for individual countries to implement the recommended strategies. While most countries cooperated, countries such as the United States resisted and refused to lock down the country initially. People have also opposed the vaccinations, with most African countries reporting having missed WHO’s target by December 2021 (Mwai, 2021). Like Lewin stated, the second phase of implementation is the toughest, but WHO, through creating mass awareness, has reached the majority of the population. Now, most people have accepted the new changes, and by the end of 2021, a majority of the people were using masks, keeping social distancing, and vaccinating. WHO was able to implement, reduce and control the spread of COVID-19 by borrowing essential aspects of the three stages model.
In conclusion, change is inevitable in organizations, especially in healthcare. The healthcare system is in constant need of meeting the needs of patients by providing better services at cheaper costs. This can only be enacted if the leaderships are prepared and intentional about creating impactful changes. Besides the usual economic forces, government policies, and technology advancements, healthcare organizations need to be ready for unexpected events such as the recent COVID-19 pandemic. The theory of change is helpful when organizations are forced to change drastically.
Hussain, S. T., Lei, S., Akram, T., Haider, M. J., Hussain, S. H., & Ali, M. (2018). Kurt Lewin’s change model: A critical review of the role of leadership and employee involvement in organizational change. Journal of Innovation & Knowledge, 3(3), 123–127. Web.
Dinh, J. V., A. M. Traylor, M. P. Kilcullen, J. A. Perez, E. J. Schweissing, A. Venkatesh, and E. Salas. 2020. “Cross-Disciplinary Care: A Systematic Review on Teamwork Processes in Health Care.” Small Group Research 51 (1): 125–66
Johnson, K. L., & Walston, S. L. (2021). Organizational Behavior and Theory in Healthcare: Leadership Perspectives and Management Applications, Second Edition. Amsterdam University Press.
Marquis, B. & Huston, C. (2017). Organizational structure. Leadership roles and management functions in nursing (9th ed.). 308-310. Philadelphia, PA: Wolters Kluwer.
Mwai, B. P. (2021). Covid-19 vaccinations: African nations miss WHO target. BBC News. Web.