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  • Writer's pictureNeil Keeler

The trifling of Burke & Litwin!

Updated: Feb 7, 2022

Just completed a session with a small charity whose board of trustees wanted to take some time to refresh their strategy. Used a tool that I find very helpful so this blog introduces it and shares a few ideas for you if you are not familiar with it.

(Had some lovely feedback that the session had been 'the most progress they had made in the past 11 years'! Wouldn't have had that without this model.)

Extremely dedicated and passionate executive group, who committed fully to the developmental aspects of the day - real delight to facilitate/coach them. Some challenge to them on what they were really about which I hope, brought some insight and inspired them to excel.

Without breaking any confidences, key issues would be familiar ones to most organisations:

  • how might we best respond (anticipate/benefit from) changes in our environment (PESTI);

  • exploring implications (SWOT) for the whole organisation;

  • considering how the executive leadership, operational management and their frontline people can thrive and stay healthy;

  • in absorbing all that what they do now need to adapt, grow, evolve or cease doing;

  • and agreeing a clear way forward.

The tool I used to anchor discussion was Burke-Litwin's change model. Dating from 1992 I still find it can be a very useful tool to structure a conversation on how change impacts across a traditionally structured organisation.

Great guidance here on the model if you haven't used it before. Top tip I always reveal it a box at a time in a slide deck, as it can look a bit overpowering!

Starting from the top, as external factors change they impact on what I call the big 3 - Mission, Leadership and Culture. The model identifies these as the elements of an organisation that drive the potential for Transformational change.

I see the changes from the external environment coming down the structure like ripples in a pond. As they pass 'the big 3' some of the motion will be absorbed, negated or reduced, perhaps if one element isn't in the right place or of the right size it lets a lot more movement/energy through.

The elements below the line are deemed Transactional elements, these are the important factors of organisational life that aim to add clarity, enable the management and equity of resourcing, promote opportunity and getting people paid and 'fed'!

Critical 'hygiene' issues occur here. The kind of issues that won't directly put a person on the moon but do ensure the janitor in NASA's bathroom is getting paid,

knows of that mission, is well lead and experiences the right culture to enable them to feel they can fully contribute, at their greatest potential to that endeavour.

At the bottom we see the outcomes of organisational life the individual and collective organisational performances that constitute why organisations exist. We can achieve far more together than we can as individuals.

As changes come through and reflect back and interact with other elements what occurs? When we plan a response are we responding at the right level and whom should be responding, where?

I find this causal tool useful to consider with executive teams and operational leaders, where do their boundaries and responsibilities each then lie?

Where can we agree we will each do our best work? Only overlapping if/when needed, supporting each other closely, without leaving large unhelpful gaps that evidence a clear divide.

How might we change our leadership, influence the culture or adapt our mission for best impact and with what implications?

We talked about how frustrating it can be when we find an unhelpful presence from the level above, when the influence or an unhealthy level of activity in the layer below where they really should be.

When an executive starts to almost manage a project or is becoming resident in a team, or the the micro-manager that doesn't leave the space for the frontline people to be creative, feeling trusted and empowered.

In my usual high tech, highly strategic OD way this then became a discussion of trifles!

If you have any queries or questions, or want to share how you have used this model I'd love to hear your thoughts. Keep warm too.

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Welcome to my blog

Hope you will find something here to really get you thinking. Topics will be on any of my passions: Organisational Development, Leadership, Employee Engagement, Culture Change, Organisational Improvement and Transformation are the key themes.  

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