Prominent McKinsey & Company consultants Tom Peters and Robert Waterman in their book In Search of Excellence first introduced the 7S management framework in 1982.19 It since has become known as the "McKinsey 7S model" because of its adoption as the management consultancy's trademark management tool. The term 7S refers to the seven elements that are linked together to form the overall framework. These elements include an organization's (1) strategy, (2) structure, (3) systems, (4) staff, (5) skills, (6) style, and (7) shared values. When looking at it from the top, the framework simulates an interconnected molecule with the shared values at its center and the six other elements forming an interlinked hexagon around it. The main premise of the framework is the total interconnectedness of the seven elements and that management needs to take all elements into account simultaneously, regardless of whether they are hard elements, such as structure, or soft elements, such as style. The ultimate goal is internal organizational alignment.20 The framework can be applied to specific teams, departments, or to the organization as a whole. It is particularly useful for merger or acquisition integration processes.

Hard elements are easier to define and influence than soft elements. Strategy statements, organizational structures, and IT systems are all hard elements. Soft elements, on the other hand, can be more difficult to grasp, are less tangible, and are more affected by organizational culture. They include shared values, skills, style, and staff. According to Peters and Waterman,21 soft elements are as important as hard elements in order to achieve superior performance.

Strategy and structure are self-explanatory; hence they will not be further described here. Systems, in the context of the 7S framework, refer to organizational processes and routines. Style refers to the leadership style of top management. Staff measures the overall quality of employees and their general capabilities, whereas skills refer to their actual expert competencies. Shared values represent organizational culture and the general work ethic of the members of an organization. The central positioning of shared values emphasizes that they are directly connected with the functioning of all the other elements.22

The application of the 7S framework is based on a two-step mapping approach. The first step is used for an assessment of the actual configuration of the elements and the second step is used to describe the intended ideal configuration. The 7S framework is helpful in evaluating the wider reaching impact and interrelatedness of change processes in organizations.23

The main limitation of the 7S model is its lack of specific drivers or measurement categories. Although the seven core elements provide a high-level framing and the central notion of shared values connects the soft with the hard elements well, it is difficult to identify the most critical subelements for each category or to aggregate them into a cohesive measurement. This means, if one category is rather weakly developed, alignment between an existing and an intended model might be presumed but in reality there could still be important elements that are not aligned because they were not considered in the first place. Hence, a detailed case study and very deep insights into the organization and its processes are crucial preliminary requirements for making the application of the 7S model work. This, however, does not happen often and especially not from the inside. Daily tasks and routines take priority over in-depth internal assessment chores. A further concern is that the connection with the external environment of the organization is completely missing from the 7S framework.

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