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
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
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.