This article explains the Burke Litwin Model of Organisational Change in a practical way. After reading it, you will understand the basics of this powerful change management and behaviour tool.
What is the Burke Litwin Model of Organisational Change
The Burke Litwin Model of Organisational Change is all about defining and establishing a cause-and-effect relationship. The model assumes 12 organisational elements that determine a change within an organisation. The model derives its name from two organisational change consultants and was developed in the 60’s by W. Warner Burke and George H. Litwin. It is a useful change management tool to better understand all aspects of an organisation and to view them from a perspective of change.
In many cases, the various facets are taken too little into account, as a result of which a change can have negative consequences for both the organisation and employees. In addition, the change model shows that the different elements are interconnected and influence each other. It is an ‘open system theory’ that assumes changes come from external influences.
The Burke Litwin Model of Organisational Change establishes a framework in which four element groups within organisations are distinguished and presented in columns. The middle column is often referred to as the backbone of the model. On the left is a column with the so-called hard elements, which are tangible and measurable, and on the right is a column with the so-called soft elements, which are mainly abstract.
The top four elements relate to the organisation as a whole and are also referred to as the transformational factors. These are deeply rooted processes and organisational characteristics that can be characterised as a corporate culture. Every change that occurs herein has major consequences for the entire organisational structure. A lasting change therefore affects the entire organisation.
The middle four elements relate to the organisational structure, including the division of departments. These are also referred to as the transactional factors. This concerns the daily activities that take place in organisations and their mutual cohesion. Who is responsible for what and how are departments and their mutual relationship structured. All activities in this group are influenced by the organisational structure and driven by management layers.
The final elements consist of performance. These are about both individual and organisational performance and focus on the output of organisations. In most cases, performance is measured in turnover figures or profit percentages. At the same time, the amount of goods produced, or the degree of customer satisfaction can also be measured under performance.
Burke Litwin Model: 12 elements
The 12 elements are grouped according to the element groups and are connected to each other. Due to them being connected, the 12 elements can also influence each other. Below is a brief summary of all 12 dimensions from the Burke Litwin model:
1. External Environment
According to the model, it is especially external influences that are important for organisational changes. Think of the economy, competition, customer behaviour and politics and legislation. When the influences from the external environment can be identified, this helps organisations to better understand the direct or indirect impact and act accordingly. An organisation has no control over external influences.
2. Mission and Strategy
This describes the organisation’s goal and the processes that ensure the goal and course can be realised. The vision, mission and accompanying strategy are defined by the highest level of management. It is recommended that the organisation always checks whether these suit the position of the employees.
This concerns the responsible positions that give direction to the rest of the organisation. Managers are responsible for developing a vision and motivating employees. By having insight into key positions, this can be addressed in the event of a change.
4. Organisational Culture
Every organisations has its own values. This is less formal than the Mission and Strategy element, but is present across the entire organisation. An organisation’s culture includes both explicit and implicit rules, including regulations, practices, principles and manners.
This concerns the hierarchical structure of the organisation, recognisable departments and formal communication channels. It also includes the position-oriented structure, such as responsibilities, authority, communication, decision-making and control.
This is about policy and procedures; mechanisms that are in place to help and support employees. Think of IT services, facility departments and internal customer support. It covers both employees and the organisation’s activities.
7. Management Practice
This is about the behaviour and activities of managers, which are generally aimed at implementing the overall strategy. How well do managers comply with the strategy and how do they deal with the resources at their disposal? How is their relationship with the employees? These are all questions that arise when discussing management practice.
8. Working Climate
This relates to employees’ experiences when it comes to the work environment. How do they experience mutual cooperation, how comfortable do they feel, and do they feel sufficiently rewarded for their effort? The mutual relationship with colleagues and the extent to which an organisation makes employees happy are very important when discussing the working climate.
9. Tasks and skills
This is about the (individual) task requirements and the alignment of the job description with employees’ expertise. What are the requirements of a specific job, and does this fit with the skills and knowledge of an individual employee? It is all about linking the right positions to the right employees.
10. Individual values and needs
This relates to the demands and expectations that employees have, including their remuneration, work-life balance, their role within the organisation and their responsibilities. It is about the opinion employees have about the quality of their work and aims to discover their needs. In some cases, this may result in task expansion or even job enrichment, meaning the employee is given more responsibility.
11. Motivational Level
Motivation is about setting goals and inspiring and stimulating employees. The more motivated employees are, the more willing they are to dedicate themselves to the organisation.
12. Individual and General Performance
This dimension considers the performance level of both the individual employee and on a departmental and organisational level. As mentioned earlier, this can be measured on the basis of turnover, productivity, quality requirements, efficiency and customer satisfaction.
Application of the change management model
The Burke Litwin Model of Organisational Change is based on assessing organisational and environmental factors, which may be adapted to ensure a successful change. The most dominant factor that causes organisational change is often the external environment. As a result, this requires organisations to adjust and change their mission and strategy, as well as the organisational culture and structure.
The Burke Litwin Model of Organisational Change provides and effective strategy for managing organisational change. However, its effectiveness depends on how well each of the 12 dimensions can be identified. Problems within organisations must first be diagnosed, after which an action plan can be created. This requires the identification of the element group that causes the change. Subsequently, the specific element within that element group must be identified and analysed. Once this is done, you can examine to what extent this has influenced other elements. Action can now take place by means of the action plan.
It’s Your Turn
What do you think? Are you familiar with the Burke Litwin Model of Organisational Change? Do you recognize the practical explanation or do you have more suggestions? Which success factors can you share on assessing organisational and environmental factors?
Share your experience and knowledge in the comments box below.
- Burke, W. W. (2017). Organization change: Theory and practice. Sage Publications.
- Burke, W. W., & Litwin, G. H. (1992). A causal model of organizational performance and change. Journal of management, 18(3), 523-545.
- Martins, N., & Coetzee, M. (2009). Applying the Burke-Litwin model as a diagnostic framework for assessing organisational effectiveness. SA Journal of Human Resource Management, 7(1), 1-13.
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