The context was this: we were reviewing an exercise where the delegates had worked on two client-based changes using the McKinsey 7-S Model (see diagram). The delegates had worked through the seven S's to describe both the current and desired future states of their organisation. There's a lot to consider. But that's the point of the model: it is forcing you to consider a more fully-orbed view of the present and the future organisation; it helps you stop going down some blinkered tunnel of change ignoring important associated aspects of the life of an organisation.
So the question came out of a sense of relevance for this approach. Where is the best place to start (meaning which one of the 7 S's)?
My response was in three places:
One of the S's is 'Shared Values'. If the values are truly values - that is that they are truly the way individuals behave in the organisation and hold dear - they we should consider carefully why they should need to change them at all. Jim Collins and Jerry Porras presented some convincing research in their acclaimed Built to Last that all high-preforming organisations do not change their values. Instead they had a clear sense of their operating values, never confused them with practices, never changed their values, but were constantly reinventing their practices.
Values are the one constant through change. Perhaps they are more than that. They are, perhaps, a kind of fulcrum upon which large-scale change can be levered elsewhere: "One thing that will not change around here," says the leader, "are our values."
The second is equally rational:
VisionWith a rational, top-down approach to change, we start with Vision.
Those familiar with MSP (Managing Successful Programmes) will recognise elements of the Blueprint in the McKinsey Model, a description of an organisational architecture, either current or future. The MSP top-down approach has it that Vision is the non-technical description of a beneficial future and the Blueprint fleshes this out into a description of the kind of organisation that will support that Vision and help make it an actuality.
I don't happen to agree with Cameron and Green that Visionary Leadership has had its day, that things are different now in the 21st Century.
When did that happen? It's not that Vision has been tried and found wanting; rather it's that Vision has been found to be too hard by too many senior management teams, and not tried at all.But Vision First is the rational, top-down, ideal approach.
But we don't appear to live in a rational, top-down world. So my third response is:
Start anywhere on the 7-S model and let the interrelationships and consequences evolve. We cannot risk paralysis by analysis when we seek to lead change so we must not let the 'hard bits' stall our efforts. My experience is that as I start with a team to map out the familiar and the known aspects of change, the less familiar, more complex issues begin to unravel themselves and yield themselves to a description. Usually these descriptions prove to be 'good enough' for identifying the change: broadly right, but precisely wrong.
So where do we begin to chart our change plans? Vision or Values or .... anywhere.