Learn how to use the 7-S Framework,
with James Manktelow & Amy Carlson.
How do you go about analyzing how well your organization is positioned to achieve its intended objective?
This is a question that has been asked for many years, and there are many different answers. Some approaches look at internal factors, others look at external ones, some combine these perspectives, and others look for congruence between various aspects of the organization being studied. Ultimately, the issue comes down to which factors to study.
While some models of organizational effectiveness go in and out of fashion, one that has persisted is the McKinsey 7-S framework. Developed in the early 1980s by Tom Peters and Robert Waterman, two consultants working at the McKinsey & Company consulting firm, the basic premise of the model is that there are seven internal aspects of an organization that need to be aligned if it is to be successful.
The 7-S model can be used in a wide variety of situations where an alignment perspective is useful, for example, to help you:
The McKinsey 7-S model can be applied to elements of a team or a project as well. The alignment issues apply, regardless of how you decide to define the scope of the areas you study.
The McKinsey 7-S model involves seven interdependent factors which are categorized as either "hard" or "soft" elements:
|Hard Elements||Soft Elements|
"Hard" elements are easier to define or identify and management can directly influence them: These are strategy statements; organization charts and reporting lines; and formal processes and IT systems.
"Soft" elements, on the other hand, can be more difficult to describe, and are less tangible and more influenced by culture. However, these soft elements are as important as the hard elements if the organization is going to be successful.
The way the model is presented in Figure 1 below depicts the interdependency of the elements and indicates how a change in one affects all the others.
Let's look at each of the elements specifically:
Placing Shared Values in the middle of the model emphasizes that these values are central to the development of all the other critical elements. The company's structure, strategy, systems, style, staff and skills all stem from why the organization was originally created, and what it stands for. The original vision of the company was formed from the values of the creators. As the values change, so do all the other elements.
Also, the first version of this model, published in 1982, classified “systems” as “soft”. Since 1982, very many processes in very many organizations have been meticulously documented or automated, making them relatively easy to analyze and change. They are therefore shown above as “hard”.
Now you know what the model covers, how can you use it?
The model is based on the theory that, for an organization to perform well, these seven elements need to be aligned and mutually reinforcing. So, the model can be used to help identify what needs to be realigned to improve performance, or to maintain alignment (and performance) during other types of change.
Whatever the type of change – restructuring, new processes, organizational merger, new systems, change of leadership, and so on – the model can be used to understand how the organizational elements are interrelated, and so ensure that the wider impact of changes made in one area is taken into consideration.
You can use the 7-S model to help analyze the current situation (Point A), a proposed future situation (Point B) and to identify gaps and inconsistencies between them. It's then a question of adjusting and tuning the elements of the 7-S model to ensure that your organization works effectively and well once you reach the desired endpoint.
Sounds simple? Well, of course not: Changing your organization probably will not be simple at all! Whole books and methodologies are dedicated to analyzing organizational strategy, improving performance and managing change. The 7-S model is a good framework to help you ask the right questions – but it won't give you all the answers. For that you'll need to bring together the right knowledge, skills and experience.
When it comes to asking the right questions, we've developed a Mind Tools checklist and a matrix to keep track of how the seven elements align with each other. Supplement these with your own questions, based on your organization's specific circumstances and accumulated wisdom.
Here are some of the questions that you'll need to explore to help you understand your situation in terms of the 7-S framework. Use them to analyze your current (Point A) situation first, and then repeat the exercise for your proposed situation (Point B).
Using the information you have gathered, now examine where there are gaps and inconsistencies between elements. Remember you can use this to look at either your current or your desired organization.
Click here to download our McKinsey 7-S Worksheet, which contains a matrix that you can use to check off alignment between each of the elements as you go through the following steps:
For similar approaches to this, see our articles on the Burke-Litwin Change Model , and the Congruence Model . You may also find our articles on the Change Curve , Impact Analysis and Lewin's Change Management Model useful.
The McKinsey 7-S model is one that can be applied to almost any organizational or team effectiveness issue. If something within your organization or team isn't working, chances are there is inconsistency between some of the elements identified by this classic model. Once these inconsistencies are revealed, you can work to align the internal elements to make sure they are all contributing to the shared goals and values.
The process of analyzing where you are right now in terms of these elements is worthwhile in and of itself. But by taking this analysis to the next level and determining the ultimate state for each of the factors, you can really move your organization or team forward.
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