A Causal Model of Organizational Performance and Change
W. Warner Burke
Teachers College, Columbia University
George H. Litwin The Graduate Center To provide a model of organizational performance and change, at least two lines of theorizing need to be explored—orgatiizational ftuictioning and organizational change. The authors go beyond description and suggest causal linkages that hypothesize how performance is affected and how effective change occurs. Change is depicted in terms of both process and content, with particular emphasis on transformational as compared with transactional factors. Transformational change occurs as a response to the external environment and directly affects organizational mission and strategy, the organiz.ation's leadership, atid culture, lit ttirn, tfie transactional factors are affected—strtictute. systems, management practices, and climate. These transformational and transactional factors together affect motivation, which, in turn, affects peifornumce. In support of the model's potential validity, theory and research as wellaspraetke are cited.
Orgatiization change is a kind of chaos (Gleick. 1987). The number of variables changing at the same lime, the magnitude of environmental change, and the frequent resistance of human systetns cteate a whole confluence of ptocesses that are extremely difficult to predict and almost impossible to control. Nevertheless, there are consistent patterns that exist—linkages among classes of events that have been demonstrated repeatedly in the research literature and can be seen in actual organizations. The enormous and pervasive impact of culture and beliefs— to the point where it causes organizations to do fundamentally unsound things ftom a business point of view^would be such an observed phenotnenon. To build a most likely model describing the causes of organizational performance and change, we must explore two important lines of thinking. First, we must understand more thoroughly how organizations function (i.e., what leads to what). Second, given our tiiodel of causation, we must understand how organizations might be deliberately changed. The purpose of this article is to explain our understanding so far. Mote specifically, we present our framework for underAddress all correspondence to W. Warner Burke, W. Wamcr Burke AssiKriaies. Inc.. 21)1 Wolfs Lane. Pelham, NY 10S03. Copyright 1992 by the Southern Management Association 0 i 49-2063/92/$2.00. 523
W, WARNER BURKE AND GEORGE H. Lit WIN
standing^—a causal model of organizational perfonnanee and change. But, ftrst, a bitof backgtound. In our organizational consulting work, we try very hard to link the practice to sound theory and lesearch. The linkage typically is in the direction of theory and research to practice: that is. to ground our consultation in what is known, what is theoretically and empirically sound. Creation of the tnodel to be presented in this article was not quite in that knowledge-to-practice direction, however. With respect to theory, we sttongly believe in the open system framework, especially represented by Katz and Kahn (1978). Thus, any organizational model that we might develop would stem from an input-throughput-output, with a feedback loop, format. The tnodei presented hete is definitely of that genre. In other wotds. the fundamental framework for the model evolved from theory. The components of the model and what causes what and in what order, on the other hand, have evolved frotn our practice. To risk stating what is often not politic to admit in academic circles, we admit that the ultimate development of our causal model evolved from practice, not extensive theory or tesearch. What we are attempting with this article, therefore, is a theoretical and empirical justification of what we clearly believe works. To be candid, we acknowledge that our attempt is not unlike attribution theory—we are...