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Using The 7S Model To Improve Organizational Alignment

Shontarius D. Aikens

Recently, I took my car into a local auto repair center to get my routine oil change. While there, I requested that the automotive service technician also check my alignment, because I noticed that even with my steering wheel set straight, my vehicle seemed to be pulling to the right as of late. What I have learned from my own research and experience is that vehicle alignment problems can happen suddenly (e.g. hitting a big pothole) or gradually over time (e.g. normal wear and tear of the parts of the suspension system). A vehicle with poor alignment can result in a shorter than expected life cycle for the tires and could lead to more dangerous driving situations in the future.

Just like an automobile needs to be aligned to function properly, an organization needs to be properly aligned as well. Misalignments within an organization can affect its ability to implement a strategy in the marketplace. The 7S Model created by consultants at McKinsey and Company provides a framework for organizations to determine if their primary organizational elements are in alignment.

In the context of the 7S Model, alignment is defined as “a condition where organizational elements fit together and reinforce each other.” The process involves first assessing each organizational element (strengths and weaknesses), second, determining which elements are aligned or misaligned, and third, determining appropriate actions needed to ensure future alignment. The seven organizational elements to examine for organizational alignment are strategy, structure, systems, staffing, skills, style, and shared values. The definitions for each organizational element are provided below along with some items for consideration when using this model. It is my hope that this will be a good starting point if you feel that your organization is due for an organizational alignment checkup.

Strategy

Strategy is defined as “the plan or process that creates and sustains a competitive advantage for a firm.” In general, firms typically choose between either a low-cost leader strategy or a differentiation/niche strategy when trying to achieve a competitive advantage in the market. Reflect on any adjustments that need to be made to your firm’s overall strategy given recent changes in the general environment (e.g. emergence of new products/services, changes in customer demographics and preferences, changes in technology, etc.).

Structure

Structure is defined as ”the division of labor and tasks within the organization into separate units and the reporting authority structure of the firm.” Duetotherecent pandemic, some organizational tasks could have been expanded, reduced, or eliminated. Be clear about those tasks that will continue for the foreseeable future, and those tasks that no longer serve a purpose. Then, revisit your organizational chart to determine if any adjustments need to be made regarding the reporting structure in the organization and if any tasks need to be reassigned to different departments or units.

Systems

Systems refer to “mechanisms, policies, or processes that coordinate and control the work of the different units of the organization.” As managers, the ultimate goal is to be both highly effective at achieving goals and highly efficient when utilizing resources. Examine existing procedures and processes to determine if both effectiveness and efficiency goals are being achieved. It would also be good to review underlying technology (i.e. programs, software, apps) to determine if they are being utilized consistently and uniformly by employees across different units and departments.

Staffing

Staffing refers to “the processes in the organization for recruiting, hiring, training, and deploying human capital.” Ayelet Sheffey’s recent article in Business Insider discussed factors contributing to a labor shortage in the U.S. Economy and the difficulty that businesses are experiencing when it comes to hiring. Given this, it would be good for organizations to start reassessing their recruiting and hiring practices to determine what adjustments (if any) need to be made to be successful in hiring in a competitive marketplace. This could also extend into employee retention policies as well.

Skills

Skills refers to “the abilities of individuals, groups, or organizations to perform tasks.” There is a clear connection between this area and the structure element (in regard to tasks) and the staffing element (as it relates to training). Do the employees working in your organization possess the necessary skills to perform their tasks both effectively and efficiently? If any gaps or misalignments are identified, determine appropriate training programs that need to be established to close the gaps.

Style

Style is defined as “the interpersonal relationships and patterns of interaction that organizational members consider appropriate and legitimate.” Another way of thinking about this is the workplace culture. Here’s an example to consider. For the past year, virtual meetings and working from home or remotely have become the norm. As it pertains to your organization, will this be the standard going forward? While this is just one example, there may be other style issues to consider for your organization. When determining what will be best for the organization going forward, be sure to gather input from employees and customers on their preferences.

Shared Values

Shared values are “the priorities, values, and virtues that members of the organization see as important.” In most organizations, these are often articulated in a mission statement or a vision and values statement. And with that, shared values should be a driving force to positively affect and influence the other six organization elements listed above.

What do you think?

Andy Solheim

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