December 2019 edition: McKinsey 7S Model: A Simple Framework for Success

McKinsey 7S Model: A Simple Framework for Success

Do you know how well your school trust is positioned to achieve its goals or what elements influence its ability to implement change successfully?

I’ve always been fascinated about what makes a business a success and how organisations evolve to maintain a competitive advantage. I think that’s why I studied economics or perhaps it’s because I studied economics that I’m so fascinated by this. What intrigues me is that there is no universal one-size-fits-all success formula. Different organisations have different views on how to achieve their goals and what success looks like. But a common theme is that successful organisations look to continuously improve – however good you are, there will always be something or some area that can be better, or new challenges or opportunities that arise.

Emphasis on improving organisational effectiveness is not just a "nice to have” or empty leadership mantra but a business imperative for school leaders who wish to ensure long-term success.

Catherine Dottridge

I think schools too can learn from how successful businesses thrive and continuously improve. I was reminded of this recently when I was asked to review the central service provision at another school trust. I had no ready-made solution: I’d have to discover what would be most effective and achievable for them. I needed a simple framework to approach this – to enable me to succinctly identify and report on my conclusions and recommendations.

A model I have used, first in business and now in schools, to analyse organisational effectiveness and change management is the McKinsey 7S framework (other models are available!).

Understanding the tool

The model was developed by two former McKinsey consultants. They identified seven internal elements of an organisation that need to align for it to be successful. And, yes, all begin with the letter "S”: Strategy, Structure, Systems and Style, Staff, Skills, Shared Values.

What makes this framework different to other organisational or change management models is that human resources (the soft Ss) are as important as infrastructure (the hard Ss) to determine success. All are inter-dependent, with shared values at the centre influencing all other elements.

The three "hard” elements are Strategy (the vision), Structure (the reporting lines), and Systems (not just IT systems, but processes and controls too). These are relatively easy to identify and define, and management can influence them directly.

The four "soft” elements, on the other hand, can be harder to express, less tangible, and more influenced by your culture. Being less definite, they are more prone to being misunderstood and are often summed up by "that’s just the way we do things here”. McKinsey identify these elements as: Style (the leadership style and how it influences strategic decisions, staff motivation & performance); Staff (the capabilities) and Skills (the competencies) as well as Shared Values (ethos/core values).

You can use the 7S model in a wide variety of situations where it’s useful to examine how the various parts of an organisation work together and how to facilitate change.

Using the tool

Applying the Mckinsey 7S model can be done in 5 steps:

Step 1: Identify the areas that are not effectively aligned: ask the right questions to a range of stakeholders (such as staff, leaders, parents) for each 7S element to assess what’s working well, and identify any gaps, weaknesses and inconsistencies. Consider also what is espoused and what is enacted – that is, does the team/manager/staff member actually do what they say they do.

Step 2: Determine the desired state: where do you want to get to? This is likely to be influenced by your own vision and goals or recognised good practice of other school trusts or successful organisations. You cannot start a change journey and expect others to come with you, if you don’t know where you are going.

Step 3: Decide where and what changes should be made: basically the action plan. In relation to each action it’s useful to set out the detail of by whom and by when too, so you can hold those responsible to account. You should anticipate the resistance to change you may get from others – which can be overcome by talking through the 7Ss with them and emphasising the benefits of proposed changes and "what’s in it for them”.

Step 4: Make the necessary changes: and have robust governance in place to keep things on track. Only well-implemented changes have positive effects. Poor implementation can cause confusion, disengagement and lower morale.

Step 5: Continuously review: often a step missed but it is essential in identifying (and celebrating) success. Importantly this also captures the lessons learnt to feed future change programmes. Remember successful businesses strive for continuous improvement.

Emphasis on improving organisational effectiveness is not just a "nice to have” or empty leadership mantra but a business imperative for school leaders who wish to ensure long-term success.

What steps should you take to make sure every part of your school trust works in harmony to achieve your goals and could the 7S model help you with this?