The Burke-Litwin model was developed by notable change consultants W. Warmer Burke and George H. Litwin in the 1960s as an organizational change framework with a focus on ranking the various drivers of change by importance. Each driver is grouped into five levels of change in decreasing order of impact on organizational performance. These levels are input, transformational (external), transactional (internal), individual and personal factors, and output.
Understanding the Burke-Litwin model
The Burke-Litwin model was developed by notable change consultants W. Warmer Burke and George H. Litwin in the 1960s.
Both Burke and Litwin argued that change management models were not supposed to be prescriptive or rigid. Instead, they should diagnose, plan, and manage the effects of change contextually to improve organizational performance.
The model itself is expressed as a diagram, showing twelve drivers of change across five different levels.
Each driver is ranked in order of importance, with the most critical at the top and the least important at the bottom.
Crucially, the Burke-Litwin model argues that drivers of change are interrelated.
To that end, it provides a framework for understanding the current situation and the collateral impacts of a proposed changed initiative.
The rest of this article will be devoted to explaining the various drivers and levels of the Burke-Litwin model, and how they interact.
The five levels and twelve drivers of the Burke-Litwin model
The Burke-Litwin model describes twelve drivers, or organizational variables that influence change. Seven of these have been borrowed from the McKinsey 7-S framework.
Each driver is grouped into five levels of change in decreasing order of impact on organizational performance.
These levels are input, transformational (external), transactional (internal), individual and personal factors, and output.
The most powerful driver of organizational change.
The external environment encompasses market, legislative, geopolitical, competitive, and economic issues.
Businesses must continually be on the lookout for external drivers of change.
Mission and strategy
Mission articulates the very reason a company exists and as such, is the foundation for strategy formation.
Mission and strategy are often sensitive to changes in the external environment and impact how the company intends to achieve its purpose over time.
How are the attitudes and behaviors of senior management perceived throughout the organization?
Change implementation and acceptance are dependent on upper levels of management committing to the process.
Or overt (and sometimes covert) rules, values, customs, and principles influencing employee behavior.
How are employee functions or relationships structured? How is power in the form of responsibility or decision-making ability distributed?
Strategy changes can sometimes lead to structural changes, which in turn upsets the status quo.
Here, management must understand the impact of structural changes and ensure subordinates understand why change is occurring.
Standardized policies and procedures tend to promote work, particularly those with incentives that encourage goal setting and buy-in.
However, systems that evolve over time can become inefficient and mired in bureaucracy.
Where possible, they must be optimized and reflect the values of the business.
Or the actions management take to further company goals using human resources.
Do they exercise fair levels of professionalism, communication, control, or etiquette toward subordinates?
Individual and personal factors
Work unit climate
How do employees feel about their colleagues and immediate working environment?
The latter is particularly important since it often shapes an employee’s opinion of the whole organization.
Changes to a work environment need to be managed sensitively as they are likely to invoke an emotional or political response.
Individual needs and values
In an ideal world, all employee teams would have the perfect mix of abilities, skills, and personality types.
In reality, the team leader needs to identify potential conflicts and mitigate them as best as possible.
Change is made much easier when employees are motivated to further company strategy.
Motivation also helps the employee transition through the change process itself, which can take weeks or even months.
Task requirements, individual skills, and abilities
Does the organization understand the requisite skills or knowledge for each task?
More importantly, can it recruit individuals that are a good fit for each role?
Individual and organizational performance
Or the outcome of the change and the effect it has on performance at a micro and macro level.
This involves measuring productivity against key performance indicators and identifying areas for improvement.
In theory, the change then impacts the external environment which creates a new input and forms a loop.
- The Burke-Litwin model is an organizational change framework helping businesses diagnose, plan, and manage the effects of change.
- The Burke-Litwin model excels as a change framework because it considers the interconnectedness of change drivers and the collateral impacts of change implementation.
- The Burke-Litwin model evaluates twelve key drivers of change in decreasing order of impact on organizational success: external environment, mission and strategy, leadership, culture, structure, systems, management, work unit climate, individual needs, motivation, task requirements, and individual and organizational performance.
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