Business management consultants are tasked with providing guidance to organizational leaders through client solutions that result from a collaborative process for comprehensive issue diagnosis and implementation of recommendations in achieving agreed upon outcomes (Fombrun & Nevins, 2004).
What consultants do is akin to providing some protection and guidance from the stormy weather business leaders sometimes find themselves engulfed with. In a past consulting engagement with “XYZ Group,” a one-month contract was verbally extended for eleven months under the supervision of the Marketing Department, with the broad goal of improving media communications at the technology firm.
Upon further examination, symptoms of systemic organizational silence were discovered, where powerful monolithic forces kept employees from speaking up about potential issues or problems (Morrison & Milliken, 2000), which were never addressed in the engagement. Consultants use models, or frameworks, which derive from prior experience and research to assist in gaining a focused perspective and give context to the client’s problems, offering a strategy for engagements (Fombrun & Nevins, 2004).
The following will explicate use of McKinsey’s 7-S contingency model of organizational change in assisting XYZ Group in achieving better performance and efficiency by breaking its systemic silence through a prospective consulting engagement, differentiating how the model can be useful for diagnosis, data collection, and intervention, and conclude with the framework’s potential benefits, weaknesses, and recommendations for the future.
The Consulting Engagement and McKinsey’s 7-S Model
Although the initial contract had a scope of work tied to media communications, systemic social and psychological concerns at XYZ Group hampered progress and interdepartmental cohesion, which was posited to stem from an intolerance of employee dissent perpetuated by a powerfully feared CEO who paradoxically touted pluralism while simultaneously blocking its survival (Morrison & Milliken, 2000).
In hindsight, it can be determined that an organization-wide communication strategy, starting from the top, would be necessary to try and break the deleterious cycle of systemic silence by figuring out its pervasive strength and interconnectedness within the firm. In the late 1970’s, two consultants from McKinsey & Company, Tom Peters and Robert Waterman, created the 7-S framework, which uses an internal alignment perspective to increase organizational effectiveness via seven interdependent categories that focus on the critical role of harmonic coordination (McKinsey & Company, 2008; Manktelow, 2012).
The seven elements are broken up into two categories, (1) hard elements including strategy, structure, and systems, which are highly influenced by management, and (2) soft elements including shared values, skills, style, and staff, which are highly influenced by the firm’s culture. Figure 1 adapts these elements as a guide for instituting transformational change and breaking organizational silence at XYZ Group.
Figure 1. The McKinsey 7-S model adapted for breaking organizational silence.
Analyzing the interrelationship of these key elements can assist in helping to achieve a more comprehensive understanding of information flow within the organization. In the center are the shared values, or superordinate goals to be spearheaded by the CEO to begin breaking through the systemic silence.
This behavioral center connects to the other soft elements affecting XYZ’s issue, including the organizational skills needed to build employee engagement and diversity, style of leadership for compelling more open communications, and the recruitment, selection, and development of staff with compassionate communication skills. These would, in turn, help to alter the hard elements with incorporating a strategy that helps to actualize a mission for greater leadership flexibility, which can encourage structural changes to reduce power struggles and allow for more problem solving, and integrating a systems-wide transformational leadership, open communications campaign (Singh, 2013).
Differentiating between a Model and an Interventional Tool The 7-S model is said to be an all-encompassing internal strategy that can be applied to any project, department, or engagement scope (Manktelow, 2012). In the case of XYZ Group, this framework might be an excellent strategy for implementing an initial consulting engagement and subsequent interventional programs. The entire framework provides the skeletal system of the engagement process, using shared values as a central developmental correlation to all the other pertinent categories, which encompass the client firm’s mission, vision, and values.
By investigating these seven elements, a better understanding of realignment needs can take place in an effort to improve the client’s performance and formulate a plan for addressing inconsistencies and gaps (Manktelow, 2012). Each of these mismatches constitutes a potential intervention designed to bridge these identified gaps (Fombrun & Nevins, 2004) and lead the client to a future state of betterment. For example, data collection, as dictated by the 7-S model, may indicate a need to focus on leadership style at XYZ Group, which can foster interventional methodologies for leadership training and development to improve information flow and break systemic silence.
Potential Benefits and Weaknesses
The McKinsey 7-S model offers a comprehensive internal perspective for understanding the interrelated aspects that may be attributing to an organizational issue. The model also takes into account both the aspects directly in control of leadership, as well as those in control of the workforce and the organization’s cultural climate, offering a robust tool for decomposing complex client issues.
A drawback of the model is its lack of integration regarding any external factors that may be attributing to a company’s performance issue. Even in the case of a systemic problem, such as organizational silence, which may be mostly attributed to internal aspects, there may still exist external factors needing attention that perpetuate these issues as well.
Also, the 7-S model leaves out the steps needed for taking the client from its current state to a more desired future state, perhaps necessitating use of additional change models, such as the transition management model championed by Beckhard at MIT (Fombrun & Nevins, 2004).
Conclusion: Looking at the Future
Since organizations are complex systems, when systemic silence is at work, it may help to understand how this disease has spread into its interdependent parts, thus hampering efficiency and effectiveness. McKinsey’s 7-S model helps to decompose these business drivers into categories to gauge consistency and posit ways of implementing change and organizational improvement, and may be an effective model to use in conjunction with other generalist models, such as an environmental scan using sector analysis (Fombrun & Nevins, 2004).
This has the strong potential of assisting client organizations by exposing important internal and external links that perpetuate problems, such as organizational silence, to bring about systemic change and achieve a desired state (Singh, 2013). It is posited that future consulting engagements, and their resultant interventions, may help to greatly improve organizational information flow and help combat the effects of organizational silence to help motivate and engage employees by better understanding the social, psychological, and contingency-based elements embedded in the client firm.
Thus, consultants can guide clients through a reframing of their organizational issues in an effort to properly address them and provide lasting value.
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Manktelow, J. (2012). The McKinsey 7-S framework: Ensuring that all parts of your organization work in harmony. MindTools.com. Retrieved from http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newSTR_91.htm
McKinsey & Company. (2008). Enduring ideas: The 7-S framework. McKinsey.com. Retrieved from http://www.mckinsey.com/insights/strategy/enduring_ideas_the_7-s_framework
Morrison, E. W., & Milliken, F. J. (2000). Organizational silence: A barrier to change and development in a pluralistic world. Academy of Management Review, 25(4), 706-725.
Singh, A. (2013). A study of role of McKinsey’s 7S framework in achieving organizational excellence. Organization Development Journal, 31(3), 39-50.