It’s not my intention to give full information or an extensive discussion on every theory. This website is intended to be a starting point and the main difference with other websites is the visual representation of the theory, which I hope will help get to grips with the theory. There are also links it the bottom to get your further research started.


7 Stage Model of Change

Ronald Lippitt 1958


Lippitt suggests that there are in total 7 steps to implementing change within a client. My feeling is that, in some ways, this is a reworking of a familiar theme. The same can be said of the other theories of change of course. As we will see below, there are significant similarities between them and they differ in the detail. This is not to discredit Lippitt or his model, it’s an observation that has its implications for practice. It makes it simpler for us practitioners to integrate all of these models within the work we do with clients. Some models have nuances which may be of benefit as well.


Lippitt’s Model links to other models of change

Schlossberg makes the distinction between anticipated and unanticipated changes for instance, whereas Lippit starts from a place of planned change where he expects individuals subject to the change to resist. Lippitt’s model on the other hand, offers more detail than that of Lewin. He also uses systemic approach, which comes from his background in working with leadership systems (committees, organisations) and not individual clients in a career context. The illustration below largely translates this into a model for career guidance. You’ll also find that Lippitt’s theory has been used in nursing in the UK because it maps on well to their planning system.


Lippitt’s model in more detail:

Career theories and the 7 Stage Model of Change by Ronald Lippitt.

Lewin and Lippitt theory of career guidance and change compared.


Ronald Lippitt was first a student under, and later a colleague of, Kurt Lewin. When you do some research into Lippitt, you’ll often see his name mentioned along with Lewin. In fact, they did a lot of work together amongst which a study on group dynamics with 3 groups of children under 3 models of leadership, which would now be frowned upon. However much they worked together, Lippitt’s theory of change is very different to that of Lewin. Or is it?

If you look closely, you can argue that Lippitt’s 7 stages are an extension of Lewin’s 3 stages. Or the reverse, that they can be clustered back into Lewin’s unfreeze-change-refreeze model of change. Lippitt initially saw his own work as a continuation and development of Lewin’s model (Lippitt et al., 1958, p.130).


Lippitt in practice

Lippit didn’t see his model as a sequence of steps to be taken one after the other. He argues that some can happen at the same time and some of the phases may become mixed up (Lippitt et al., 1958, p.130). This differs a lot from Lewin’s and other models where the different steps or phases need to be walked through in sequence. Especially in Lewin’s model, there is very little if anything to switch around before it stops making sense altogether.

Lippitt also mentions that this could be a cyclic, rather than a linear process (Lippitt et al., 1958, p.130), bringing it in close proximity to Prochaska and DiClemente’s work and even that of Schlossberg with its 4Ss cycle.

Although I’ve gone back to Lippitt’s original work, I’ve translated some of the language in his work to a more modern context as well as a career guidance environment. Because there is so little to find about Lippitt’s theory of change, I found, I’ve gone into quite a bit more detail than intended. Some of the secondary sources I found were either a mistranslation of his work or were very specific to a particular work or organisational context (e.g.: nursing).

Phase 1: Developing a need for change; diagnosing the problem (Lippitt et al., 1958, p.131)

  • The creation of problem awareness and a strong feeling in the client for a need for change.
  • Recognising the existence of any communication blockages between client and practitioner
  • The creation of at least some confidence within the client that their situation can move to a more desirable state and tackling defeatist beliefs
  • The client has to be helped to believe that external help or the practitioner’s help is relevant and available and linked to that
    • working with the client to resolve resistance to help from outside/by the practitioner – the client may see this is a failing on their part for not being able to resolve change to a positive outcome themselves for instance. There could also be cultural or social foundations for resistance we need to be aware of.

Phase 2: Change relationship; assessing motivation and capacity for change (Lippitt et al., 1958, p.133)

This phase may reveal or generate problems for the client:

  • in communicating their need for help with change in a way that the practitioner understands and accepts or
  • by the client needing to assess the validity of the practitioner’s assessment and ability to help

Lippitt argues that one of the crucial features of this phase is the way that the client starts to think about working relationship with the practitioner, the first impression they have of the practitioner. Reassuring the client and using a friendly and open way of communicating with them that is not authoritative is important. This includes the client’s attitude towards and opinion of career guidance/counselling and your position within the organisation if your work is within a school environment for instance. Building trust is important in this phase.

Also, the client may not be sure about the process and may expect relatively ‘quick and easy solutions’ offered by the practitioner. We need to help the client create realistic expectations.

Phase 3: Clarification; diagnosing the client system’s problem (Lippitt et al., 1958, p.136)

  • In this phase, the client often needs to cope with a broader and more involved diagnosis of the problem and the consequential change, according to Lippitt. As a result, the client may come to think that their problem is too complex to be resolved and change may not happen or may be too difficult.
  • Another client response Lippitt identified is of the client becoming hostile [sic] and uncooperative, closing down communication with the practitioner or denying the working relationship information to work with.

Lippitt argues that it usually comes down to helping the client strike a balance between helpless dependency on ‘outside help’ and defeatism or hostile rejection of ‘the diagnosis’.

Phase 4: Establishing alternative routes (Lippitt et al., 1958, p.137)

The client starts translating ‘the diagnosis’ into possible routes forward. Alternative routes forward are discussed between client and practitioner.

  • Motivation is important in choosing alternative solutions and making a decision as to which one would be best. Commitment requires an emotional and material/practical investment and the client will make assessments as to the resources that are required, which will affect motivation positively (“oh, that’s easy enough”) or negatively (feeling overwhelmed for instance).
  • There is a realisation that old habits and practices will need to be given up. This may result in a tendency in the client to retract back to known habits and practices or this may cause anxiety or fear of failure.

Phase 5: Transforming intentions into actual efforts to change (Lippitt et al., 1958, p.139)

So far, success is measured by the extent to which plans and intentions are translated into actual action for change or achievements. Lippitt doesn’t seem to have a lot to say about this phase that is of use to us in a career context other than that the practitioner may not be able to see the efforts for change in the environment the client has to apply them.

Getting feedback on the consequences (or effects) of the change process may be difficult, he also argues, which may cause the client to discontinue their efforts to implement or continue implementing the changes agreed upon. I feel this is far less likely in the working relationships we work within and with the clients we support.

I’ll leave it up to you (and each one of us) to draw consequences or fill in the blanks when relating the phase 5 header to our working environment.

Phase 6: Stabilising change (Lippitt et al., 1958, p.140)

Lippit rightly claims that one critical factor in the stabilisation of change is that of the spread or ‘non-spread’ of the changes to ‘neighbouring systems or subsystems’, which can be translated to whether the changes are integrated within the client’s framework of habits and whether their surroundings support maintaining the change.

Here too, if we stick to Lippitt’s work, he doesn’t have a lot to say about the individual client and the one to one working relationship we have with them. His work is more focused on organisational change.

Phase 7: Terminal relationship (Lippitt et al., 1958, p.142)

Lippitt claims that the client’s dependency on the practitioner is a major issue when terminating the relationship. I agree that this may be an issue in counselling and other relationships where there has been an intense and longer term working relationship between the client and the practitioner, this may be a real issue. I can’t speak for anyone else but in my practice, most of the time the working relationship is short in nature. This is in no small part because of how career guidance is perceived and funded in England, promoting short term interventions with a focus on (if some agents had their way) employability and the economy at large, rather than longer term career management.

Another issue at the end of our working relationship is the question of whether the client has integrated the techniques and behaviours to implement and sustain change enough to ensure their long term viability. At the end of the working relationship we need to make sure that we fully understand how far and how well change behaviours and thinking has been integrated within the client’s natural thinking and behaviour. We also need to act if this is not the case, postponing the point of termination of the working relationship.



I feel that Lippit leaves me with something to think about, rather than with a set of techniques to use with clients. Lippitt’s theory is also far wider than the context we work within in career management and counselling. This can be helpful in drawing us out of our ‘natural environment’ and look at things in a different way. However, I sometimes struggled, reading Lippitt’s work, to related it to career counselling and management. This doesn’t mean that the model itself can’t be useful for career guidance work and looking at the illustration above, the essence is very easy to use in career guidance work.

However, does it add anything over and above other models? What do you think?

  • Taking the basics, or the implications described by Lippitt, how do you feel you can use the model ini your work?
  • Comparing it to other models of change, what do you think? What are its strengths and weaknesses?
  • Is it valid in helping both you and your clients to move successfully through change?
  • Also, apply it to change you’ve been through. How relevant is it in retrospect? How would it have changed the process of change for you?
  • Here too, have a look at Brown and see how it measures up.


Useful links


  • Lippitt, R., Watson, J., & Westley, B. (1958). The dynamics of planned change. New York, Harcourt, Brace and World, Inc.

Further reading:

  • Lippitt, R. (1981). Humanizing planned change. In H. Metzer (Ed.), Making organizations humane and productive: A handbook for practitioners (pp. 463–474). New York: Wiley.
  • Lippitt, R. (1983). Future before you plan. In R. A. Ritvo & A. G. Seargent (Eds.), The NTL Manager’s handbook (pp. 374–381). Arlington: NTL Institute.