“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 describes how anyone who wants to change an organisation has to learn first 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, therefore, it is necessary to look both inwards and outwards:

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

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

So how can we achieve this combination of inner and outer change?

The McKinsey authors recommend that people develop two new skills. The first they call ‘profile awareness’, which means becoming aware of our own habitual thoughts and emotions and the effects these can have on other people. They call the second skill ‘state awareness’, by which they mean understanding the emotional states that drive us to behave in certain ways.

Then they suggest four ways that we can use these two types of awareness to create organisational change:

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

All of this makes logical sense. But this is where we disagree with McKinsey.

This analytical approach is exactly what we would expect from consultants. But not everybody thinks analytically  —  so making everyone in an organisation think this way is likely to be both difficult and slow. And does everyone need to become expert at all four archetypal roles (CEO, CFO, CHRO, COO)? Or do we really need people to become better at being who they are, doing what they do best, and improving the ways they then work with others to achieve their shared purpose and goals?

In a time of change what we really need, surely, is not more analysis but rather new ways of taking better actions, faster.

This is why Inner Leadership’s approach to building lasting change is different:

  1. Increase self-awareness, yes — but do it in ways that enable people to become more of who they are, not more aware of who they aren’t, and definitely not more like McKinsey consultants.
    Don’t ask people to work out which of the four roles they feel most comfortable in and then ask them to become better at the three other roles they find difficult. Instead, give people the tools they need to understand more deeply who they are and what matters most to them. Help them to become clearer and more confident about their values, their purpose, their priorities, expressed in their terms (Chapters 1, 4, 5). And then help them find ways to apply that better, in ways that develop them to become even more of who they are, so that they add even more value to the organisation as a whole.
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  2. Give people the tools they need to become more aware of the assumptions that they and other people can make in times of change, especially under stress (Chapter 2). Use this to improve communication and problem-solving, both individually and as a team.
    These assumptions are what the McKinsey authors called our “habitual thoughts and emotions.” So if people know how to identify, test, and resolve their own assumptions then they automatically prevent the ‘unhelpful behaviours’ that McKinsey describe.
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  3. Give people the tools they need, not to analyse what is happening but to find more opportunities to move forward and to choose between them, even when data is scarce and outcomes are difficult to predict (Chapters 3 and 4).
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    And then…
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  4. Help people to inspire themselves and each other to make the chosen way forward happen — better and faster than before (Chapters 6 and 7).

This, surely, is the outcome we seek: not more analysis but better actions, implemented faster, with more energy, enthusiasm, and inspiration.

We think this approach is more direct than McKinsey’s: not teaching people to become more like McKinsey consultants but teaching them to become more dynamic, more inspired and inspiring versions of themselves. And applying this in ways that benefit themselves and the organisation.

The outcome will be people who know how to use change to become stronger and more valuable versions of themselves, who know how to become antifragile, and who work with each other to make their whole organisation antifragile.

We believe this is the truly “powerful formula for creating long-term, high-impact organisational change.” The ability to change the world by changing and developing ourselves — to become who we most want to become.

Are you focused on changing the world, changing yourself, or both? Is your focus on removing your weaknesses or expanding your ability to become and achieve whatever matters most to you in the world?


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 can’t learn to swim just by reading about swimming, you also need to do the practice.)

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