The most powerful formula for creating long-term, high-impact organisational change (McKinsey)

A change leader looks into a mirror

More than a hundred years ago, Leo Tolstoy wrote that:

“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”

Now this article in McKinsey Quarterly is discussing how anyone who wants to change an organisation must first learn to look inside and change themselves.

Years of working in leadership and cultural transformation have convinced the authors that:

“… organizational change is inseparable from individual change. Simply put, change efforts often falter because individuals overlook the need to make fundamental changes in themselves… Organizations don’t change — people do.

To create lasting organisational impact, they say, it is therefore necessary to:

“Look both inward and outwards… Integration of looking both inward and outward is the most powerful formula we know for creating long-term, high-impact organizational change.”

Inner Leadership agrees — this is why the book was written.

But we find the approach the authors describe for putting this approach into practice overly-analytical and slow.

They recommend that people develop two new skills and then have four ways to put them into practice.

The first skill they call ‘profile awareness’. This means becoming aware of our habitual thoughts and emotions and the ways these impact other people. The second skill they call ‘state awareness’. By this they mean understanding the emotional states that are driving us when we take actions.

Then they offer four ways to convert this increased awareness into organisational change:

  1. Understand which archetypal role you are most comfortable in and learn to switch between all four of them: CEO (inspirer), CFO (analyst), CHRO (enabler), or COO (implementer)
  2. Use awareness of your own emotional state to reduce the times when you take unhelpful actions
  3. Translate this greater self-awareness into better understanding of other people in the organisation — and use that to shape change
  4. Realise that organisations don’t change, people do: so move forward one person (or group people) at a time

While this analytical approach is what we might expect from consultants, not everybody thinks analytically so not everyone will find this easy.

And surely, in a time of change, what is most needed not more analysis (which slows the process down) but rather better ways to get to good results faster?

This is why Inner Leadership’s approach for building lasting organisation change is similar but different:

  1. Increase self-awareness, yes — but do this in ways that enable people to become more of who they are, not more like a McKinsey consultant. Don’t ask people to work out which box they feel most comfortable in and then learn to switch between boxes. Instead, give people the skills to connect more deeply with who theyare and what matters most to them. Help them to become clearer and more confident in their own values and priorities, expressed in their language, on their terms.
  2. Give people the tools to become more aware of the assumptions they and others might be making during times of change. Show them how to test, clarify, and resolve these assumptions to make clear sense of the situation.
  3. Once people understand their own priorities and can make clear sense of the situation, give them the tools to become more innovative in a crisis: to expand their range of options and then choose what’s best for them.
  4. Help people to inspire themselves and each other to make that chosen way forward happen and to manage the inner emotional processes that will inevitably accompany change.

This approach to personal and organisational change not only creates understanding it expands the range of options for action and builds the momentum to make whatever matters most happen.

This creates people who not only know how to analyse change but also know how to use change to become stronger, to become antifragile.

And people who use change to become stronger can then create organisations that use change to become stronger.

We believe this is ‘the most powerful formula for creating long-term, high-impact organisational change’: enabling people not to become McKinsey consultants but to become more dynamic, capable, and inspired versions of themselves.


Inner Leadership is a framework and tools for building inspiration in times of change.

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