The McKinsey 7S is a versatile model used for strategy execution and for change management. It’s a simple way of getting in sync the different organizational constituents.  In this post I attempt to narrate an experiment with the 7S model in the turnaround of a high priority project in serious trouble as the completion deadlines had crossed and cost over-runs became alarming.

The project was 85 Km away from the organizations HQ – Chief Engineer located in Chennai. It was a large engineering organization somewhat bureaucratic had 7  SBU stations handling Maintenance and Project located at Bangalore, Tuticorin, Goa, Trivandrum, Bangalore, Coimbatore and Belgaum. The troubled project was the eight and exclusively a project division. Each SBU was headed by a senior executive. The entire Chief Engineer formation was a divisional structure.

The turnaround approach

The earlier leadership was replaced. The revised deadline given was tight. Formal and informal channels were used by the new leadership to diagnose the problems. It became evident that an unhealthy organizational climate prevailed – low morale, infighting and politics. The project executives had stopped seeking advice from HQ staff specialists and their relationship was at best tenuous.

To usher in a spirit of mutual understanding the 7S framework proved a handy tool.  The benefits of cooperation were

Balance the 7Ss

highlighted in presentations. Care was taken to avoid negative issues or blame the previous leadership.

Shared values for harmony

The essence of the model lies in the central factor. It resonates beautifully with the Tao of management – Chinese wisdom. The philosophy of Taoism understands Tao as the One Thing which exists and connects the many things – and that is exactly what we try to achieve with help of the 7S. Tao (pronounced ‘Dao’) can be defined as ‘path’, or ‘road’. The way of the Tao is the way of Nature and of ultimate reality.

Shared values are therefore the super ordinate goal that unifies and creates a joyful productive culture. The change initiative was welcomed by all the internal stakeholders.


To give the staff boosts the new leaders took their advice and made it clear to the ground executive to do likewise. A steering committee was formed at HQ to coordinate and expedite decisions needed by the project executives. Cross-functional teams were formed wherever required to improve cohesiveness and cooperation and to minimize the negative effects of bureaucracy.


Keeping in view the time-bound deadline a strategic-intent was announced. This served well to rally all members to work towards the common purpose of the turnaround quality and speed foremost.


Specific processes, procedures or information systems were instituted to support the new initiatives. Reviews and presentations were based on PERT and CPM.  Reports for HQ were to be on a management-by-exception basis. Weekly meets and brainstorming sessions acted as a good feedback system.


Uplifting the sagging morale was declared a strategic KRA. The talent at the junior levels were given considerable

In perfect balance

power and authority to drive critical activities. The new leadership made sure that the prestige of the staff was  respected.


A team leadership approach replaced the earlier sole leader style. The chief role of leadership was listening and appreciation. Speedy action was ensured on suggestions received from junior executives. The grapevine was useful in understanding the morale and pulse of the workforce. Generally the hard variables dominate the soft and therefore special attention given to maintain a balance between the two.


People in the project organization were IITs engineers with rich experience. Selected personnel were made change agents to communicate organizational wide the 7S story.

About Dilip

An open mind! Love to share my thoughts and a keenness to learn. An engineer and a MBA I had a wonderful innings in the Army and later moved to consultancy and teaching. My current interests are music and growing culinary herbs. Love to play golf and do yoga regularly. I am serious on "Living life less seriously". A warm welcome to you be well and be cheerful always.

4 responses

  1. Dilip says:

    Good question. I do feel to some extent there is a similarity of purpose in both. The BSC however is a more rigorous and take into account the external factors like the customer too.

    Thanks & regards.


  2. phalgun says:

    Is their any relation between 7s model and BSC(balance score card)? If any, let’s know it in brief.


  3. Gaurav R Arora says:

    It’s all very well devising a strategy, but one have to be able to implement it if it’s to do any good. The turnaround which took place through effective leadership using 7s framework was remarkable. While reading about 7s i came to know that it was initially phrased as “In Search of Excellence” by Peters and Waterman, and was taken up as a basic tool by the global management consultancy McKinsey:

    Managers, have to take account of all seven factors to be sure of successful implementation of a strategy – large or small. They’re all interdependent, so if one fail to pay proper attention to one of them, it can bring the others crashing down .

    In todays HRD class i learned everything is dynamic. In words of Victor Frank ” When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves” . Change is a part of life and will happen continuously, so applying this concept in such a changing environment is challenging.
    Though 7S Framework is useful way of checking that we have covered all the bases,the most important thing to look here is role of leadership. A Leader establish the vision for the future and set the strategy for getting there; they are the one who make models like 7s to work.

    Salute to all leaders who make all turnaround possible.

    Gaurav R Arora


    • Dilip says:

      Hi Gaurav,

      Your comments make interesting reading In fact you have done a value addition the post by highlighting the the origin of the model. In fact it first appeared in “The Art Of Japanese Management” by Richard Pascale and Anthony Athos in 1981. They had been looking at how Japanese industry had been so successful, at around the same time that Tom Peters and Robert Waterman were exploring what made a company excellent. The Seven S model was born at a meeting of the four authors in 1978. It went on to appear in “In Search of Excellence” by Peters and Waterman, and was taken up as a basic tool by the global management consultancy McKinsey.

      Victor Frankl’s quote on “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves” is indeed profound.

      Thanks Gaurav!