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


More than a hundred years ago, Leo Tolstoy wrote:

“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.

What they recommend is that people develop two new skills and then put them into practice in four ways.

The first skill they call ‘profile awareness’. This means becoming aware of our own 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 these two types of increased awareness into organisational change:

  1. Understand which archetypal role you are most comfortable in and learn to switch between 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 one group of 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 we need is not a more analysis that slows change down and turns everyone into a McKinsey consultant but rather better ways of taking actions to get to results faster?


This is why Inner Leadership’s approach for building lasting change has a different focus:

  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 of four boxes they feel most comfortable in and then learn to switch between boxes.
    Instead, give people the tools to connect more deeply to understand who they are 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.
    After all, these are behind the “habitual thoughts and emotions” that McKinsey talk about.
    Show people how to test, clarify, and resolve these assumptions to make clear sense of the situation.
  3. Once people understand their own priorities (1) and can make clear sense of the situation (2) give them the tools to become more innovative in a crisis: teach them to expand their range of options and then choose the best way forward.
  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.

Like the McKinsey approach, this improves self-understanding. But it does so directly, not via analysis or comparison with ‘archetypal roles’.

More importantly, it expands the range of options for action and it builds the inspiration and momentum that make those actions more likely to succeed.

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

And people who can use change to become stronger create organisations that use change to become stronger — one person at a time.

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

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

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You can buy the book here and the workbook here.

(And remember: you don’t learn to swim by reading about swimming, you also need to practice.)

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