Change Theory: Compared Lewin’s and Kotter’s Approaches


Change is one of the most important things that make originations operational. Researchers have developed a number of change theories that can be applied in different settings. These theories often have some concepts in common but they are also characterized by certain peculiarities. It is possible to compare Lewin’s and Kotter’s approaches to trace the way change theories differ.

Lewin’s Theory

Kurt Lewin developed a three-step model that includes the following stages: unfreezing, moving, and refreezing (Burnes, 2004). The first step presupposes the identification of the need for change and making people aware of it. During the first stage, people should be encouraged to implement the change and adopt new behaviors. The next step involves research and analysis of the situation. At this stage, ways to implement the change, resources available, and outcomes of different strategies are considered. The third step implies the development of policies and rules that make new behaviors a norm. In other words, the change is integrated into the culture of the organization.

Kotter’s Theory

Kotter’s theory is more detailed and it contains eight steps (Pryor, Taneja, Humphreys, Anderson & Singleton, 2008). The first step is the creation of the need for change. The second step involves the creation of a group that will focus on the implementation of the change. The third step implies the development of the strategy including analysis of resources available and necessary, people responsible for different stages, a particular plan to implement the change. The fourth step involves communicating the strategy developed. The fifth step presupposes encouraging members of the organization to implement the change with the help of various methods including rewards. The sixth step involves the identification of short-term gains, which will make people understand that the change is beneficial. The seventh step involves guidance, supervision, and (if necessary) some changes. The eighth step includes the incorporation of the change into the organization’s culture.

Comparison of the Theories

It is clear that the two theories can be characterized by certain similarities. For instance, they imply the creation of the need for change, working with members of the organization including encouragement and reinforcement to implement the change. The two models also presuppose stabilization of the change through its incorporation into the culture of the organization.

At the same time, there are quite significant differences in these models. It is possible to identify at least three differences. Kotter’s model is more detailed which makes it more applicable in many contexts. Lewin’s model is provided in quite general terms and it is easy to make various errors while implementing the change. Another difference is associated with the involvement of members of the organization. Thus, in Kotter’s model, it is explicitly stated that the change agent should have a team of people who will focus on the development of the plan and implementation of change. In Lewin’s model, there is no information on the creation of any teams and it is implied that the change agent does everything without such external assistance. It is necessary to add that Kotter’s model is more effective as it is clear that the work on change of a group of people is much more efficient than the work of one person. Finally, the third difference to be considered is associated with the identification of benefits. Kotter’s model includes a step that involves consideration of short-term benefits of the change while Lewin’s approach does not include this kind of element. Notably, Kotter’s model is, hence, more detailed and more efficient as the change agents understand that he/she should inform the member of the organization about benefits, which will encourage them to adopt the new behavior.

Strengths and Limitations

As has been mentioned above, Kotter’s model is more detailed and can be easily applied in many settings. Thus, the eight-step approach can be regarded as a particular plan that can be utilized by the change agent. It involves steps that transform a new behavior into an accepted and even approved one. However, there are certain limitations as it is quite unclear when each step can be undertaken and how to address challenges that will inevitably occur. Irrespective of these limitations, Kotter’s model is efficient and can be used in many situations.

Application of the Model

It is possible to use Kotter’s approach to change behaviors in my hospital. Nurses in my hospital often fail to communicate with patients effectively, which leads to dissatisfaction of both sides. One of the major issues is nurses’ unwillingness to explain to a patient what they are doing and what is going on. Thus, the change agent should communicate the problem (in private talks, during a meeting) and show that it is the source of many problems. The agent should encourage his/her colleagues to create a team that will develop a brief plan on how to inform patients effectively. The team will analyze resources available (development of leaflets, shifts to enable nurses to supervise each other’s work, and so on). The team will communicate the developed plan during a regular meeting through leaflets (and presentations). Nurses who follow the plan will be rewarded (in different ways including additional days off, bonuses and so on). All the nurses will also be guided and their communication with patients will be supervised. Finally, the communication patterns developed will be included in the code of conduct and other documents associated with norms and rules.

Reference List

Burnes, B. (2004). Kurt Lewin and the planned approach to change: A re-appraisal. Journal of Management Studies, 41(6), 977-1002.

Pryor, M.G., Taneja, S., Humphreys, J., Anderson, D., & Singleton, L. (2008). Challenges facing change management theories and research. Delhi Business Review, 9(1), 1-20.

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NursingBird. (2023) 'Change Theory: Compared Lewin’s and Kotter’s Approaches'. 8 July.


NursingBird. 2023. "Change Theory: Compared Lewin’s and Kotter’s Approaches." July 8, 2023.

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NursingBird. "Change Theory: Compared Lewin’s and Kotter’s Approaches." July 8, 2023.