The now-widely-known 7S model was created back in the 1970s by a pair of intellectual consultants working in McKinsey & Company, Tom Peters and Robert Waterman. It has since been adopted and implemented by a huge number of companies, proving its timeless solution to organizational design. But, what is the 7S model all about? And how can you implement it in your company?
The 7S are seven areas that can help us analyze a company structure. They can be divided into hard and soft elements. The hard ones are the “core” ones and the easier to identify: strategy, structure, systems. The soft elements are the less tangible ones, deeply influenced by the company culture and its work ethics. These are: style, staff, skills, shared values. The 7 elements are often depicted as an interconnected circle, with shared values as the central element.
However, how can a company put this model into practice? There are a few steps that can be taken in order to profit from it. The first one is simple: companies should think what are the things that should be aligned or realigned. Most companies probably know the 7S system, but after a while, tend to forget its core principles. Taking some time to identify the problems and study the situation is the place to begin.
The second step is quite straightforward: once you have identified the problems with every element from the model, the goal is to find a way to develop the most adequate organizational design, so that the elements can work fully aligned, with shared values as the binding central element. This may be one of the hardest steps, since “the optimal design” will surely be different from company to company. It requires a great number of thinking, analyzing and honest consideration.
Is important, then, to set up an action plan: the “when and how” these changes will take place. Sometimes, when trying to make adjustments, the management wants to do it all at once, but that may not always be the best course of action. In some cases, it may be necessary to retrain the managers, so that their style can align with the whole organization, or even let go some members whose management style is very far from what the company aims at. The steps to be taken should be thoroughly analyzed and be under constant revision.
Finally, once the plan is in motion and the first steps have been taken, it is key not to lose momentum. The rush of daily work can make companies quickly forget all the changes and improvements they had been planning to do, after one or two major changes are made. If the model is to work successfully, the alignment process must be carried out to the detail, and once every few months, revised and readjusted.
One practical example of this system can be seen at Virtualmind, where we apply the 7S model, and recently saw the results of having a consistent plan. When the pandemic struck in March 2020, we already had been working with a system that allowed all employees to work from home at least once a week during the last few years, adding that to the employees that worked 100% remotely from all across Latin America. Moving from that to an all-remote way of working was not such a big challenge, since all our structure and the elements of our organizational design pointed at that direction.
The 7S model can certainly be useful to help organizations find their ideal design, one that is aligned with their policies, core values and style. Looking at the strategy, structure, systems, style, staff, skills and shared values and working hard to keep them working smoothly is definitely one of the best ways to create a work environment that feels comfortable and encourages workers to give their best.