McKinsey’s 7-S Model

McKinsey Quarterly has a series of short, interactive, presentations entitled "Enduring Ideas" one of them is on the 7-S framework .introduced in the late 1970s. They describe it as a "watershed in thinking about organizational effectiveness" stating that previously the focus was on organization as structure – essentially a series of spans and layers – organized in a hierarchy.

Although the McKinsey view is that co-ordination became a critical factor in organization effectiveness (rather than structure) it is notable that 40 years later managers are still equating organization effectiveness with structure. Any design or re-design of an organization or business unit seems to start (in the manager's mind) with a rearrangement of the names in the boxes that feature on the organization chart.

Despite the 7-S framework showing linkages between the 7 elements (strategy, style, shared values, systems, skills, structure, staff) and the point being made that the elements are like "the knights of the round table" – all of equal importance. It seems that for those who are fixed on the notion that design = structure it is hard to grasp the simple point that adjusting the structure (or the people in it) will have considerable impact on the other six elements.

Other systems models are based in similar thinking – that organizations are complex and dynamic, and comprise a number of interrelated elements that are not independent levers to pull to solve a presenting problem. There are several to choose from and the major consulting companies all have variations on the theme.

The flaw in the McKinsey model is that it does not have an "S" for "surroundings" or external/operating environment, and it is this aspect that has at least as much of an impact on organization effectiveness as the others, and is much harder to predict and work with.