The McKinsey 7S framework isn’t a model for accomplishing change as much as a model designed to accelerate excellence in an organization.  It was exposed to the world in the book, In Search of Excellence, by Tom Peters and Robert Waterman.  In the years since the release of the book, Tom Peters has acknowledged that some of the data in the book was faked.  Many of the organizations that the book profiled as excellent organizations based on the model have fallen from favor.  Despite these limitations, the McKinsey 7S framework focuses attention on seven key factors of organizational success that can be optimized.  These seven factors can accelerate the agility of the organization.

Seven Ss

The seven Ss are broken into two basic categories: those that are considered hard, and those that are considered soft.  The hard Ss, which are easier to manage and monitor, are:

  • Strategy – The purpose of the business and the approach to success.
  • Structure – The division of work and activities throughout the organization.
  • Systems – The procedures that are used to ensure repeatability. (See The E-Myth Revisited for more about systemization.)

The soft Ss, which are more difficult to manage in a single, coherent way, are:

  • Shared Values – The values that the organization strives for collectively.
  • Skills – The capabilities and capacities of the organization both in its people and in aggregate.
  • Style – The typical behavior patterns – the culture.
  • Staff – The people in the organization, including their unique experiences and perspectives.

Relating

The big innovation in the model is the interrelated nature of the factors.  There’s explicit acknowledgement that the changes made in one area will necessarily impact the other areas.  The interrelated nature of these factors is part of what makes it difficult to improve the performance of an organization and to maintain those performance increases.

More challenging is that the precise nature of these factors and what can be done to manage them better isn’t identified.  While the framework highlights things that are important, it doesn’t tell you what they should be nor how to influence them.

Actionability

One of the challenges of all non-linear change models, but particularly with the McKinsey 7S framework, is the lack of actionability of the framework.  It may be something interesting or even useful to know, but understanding the framework doesn’t help you improve organization performance, increase agility, or deliver change projects.

The best utility of the model is to assess how each change will impact the other areas of the model.  How will changing staff result in a change in strategy – or vice-versa?

Criticisms

As was mentioned earlier, Peters acknowledged that some of the data was faked, and the organizations which they claimed were excellent quickly fell into disfavor.  However, that being said, the greatest criticisms of the model are related to its ability to be converted into a set of actions to be taken to improve the organization or implement a change.

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