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As models go, the Burke-Litwin change model is one of the most complex models.  While McKinsey’s 7S model works on seven factors, the Burke-Litwin model includes 12 factors, each interrelated.  It is therefore more complex than even the Twelve-Step model for change.  Let’s review and summarize the factors.

External Environment

In most models, the external environment is the spark that sets off the process.  Here, it’s more than that, as the external environment not only often provides the initial energy for the change, but it also shapes how the change works its way through the organization.


There’s no doubt that good leadership is critical to every organization, but it is doubly so when it comes to implementing change.  Without clear leadership, organizations may get stuck in what William Bridges would call “the Neutral Zone.”  (See the Bridges Transition model.)  Leadership is notoriously difficult to define, as Rost indicates in Leadership for the Twenty-First Century, but also critically important, as Edith Penrose explains in The Theory of the Growth of the Firm.

Mission and Strategy

While too many organizations have uninspiring missions that are more platitude than practicality, the change’s alignment with the mission of the organization can accelerate or slow a change.  (See The Heretic’s Guide to Management for more on platitudes.)  Strategy can similarly be informed or informal.  Simon Sinek encourages organizations to Start with Why in motivating their employees and planning their strategies.


Culture is the result of the people and the environment of the organization but, once established, tends to be self-sealing and protective of itself.  (See Organizational Chemistry for more.)  Because of this, it is both influenced by and influences the other factors of the model.

Management Practices

Management practices are the way that people are managed – from very authoritarian models to more open and inclusive models.  (See Reinventing Organizations for more.)


Nearly every organization has an organizational chart.  That chart puts structure around the relationships between people.  Structure – like the structure provided by the bones of the human body – is a good and necessary thing.  Some structures – like management practices – encourage more free-flowing change and others more regimented change.


Systems here are the kinds of systems that Michael Gerber advocates in The E-Myth.  They’re the processes and procedures that the organizations uses to achieve consistent results.

Work Unit Climate

Fredrick Herzberg’s Harvard Business Review article, “One More Time: How Do You Motivate Employees?” was published in 1968 and became the most requested reprint that HBR has ever had.  In his research, Herzberg identified that the relationships with supervisors, peers, and subordinates have a substantial impact on motivations.  These work units can either embrace or resist change depending upon their makeup.  If they’re too tightly coupled, they’ll reject the outside change; and if they’re too loosely coupled, they’ll chase any change that comes – never finishing any of the changes they start (see Richard Hackman’s Collaborative Intelligence for more).

Skills/Job Match

The greater degree to which the skills people have fit the changes, the faster they’ll become.  In How Will You Measure Your Life?, Clayton Christensen proposes that we need to find tasks that are aligned with who we want to be.  If the changes are contrary to the skills employees possess, then change will be harder to accomplish.  In ADKAR, the second A is about the ability – or skills – to accomplish the change.


Steven Reiss reduced the factors that motivate people to sixteen items.  (See The Normal Personality.)  These factors, he claims, motivate all of us differently.  With everyone being motivated differently, they’ll respond differently as the organization changes – and they’ll change the organization in ways that align to their motivators.

Individual Needs and Values

We can’t ignore that individuals are not cogs in a giant machine.  They influence the other factors – and are influenced by them.  It’s important if not critical to assess the individual needs and values for the people influencing the change to know how to motivate them.  Jonathan Haidt in The Righteous Mind argues that the entire foundation of morality rests on six values that we all share in varying degrees.  It’s up to us to understand how people solve challenges between these values (see How Good People Make Tough Choices for more).


To the victor go the spoils.  Those organizations whose performance keeps improving can easily afford to invest more in change than those that are struggling.  It’s not that struggling organizations won’t invest in change – they may have to – it’s that it will be harder for them to do so.


The primary criticism of the Burke-Litwin model is that it’s too complex.  It’s difficult to identify, much less adjust, 12 factors.  Despite this, it’s a good index of the kinds of factors one must address to accomplish change in their organization.