“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 discusses 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, the authors say that 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.

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

The McKinsey authors recommend that people develop two new skills and put them into practice in four ways.

They call the first skill ‘profile awareness’, which means becoming aware of our own habitual thoughts and emotions and the ways these impact other people. They call the second skill ‘state awareness’, by which 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 (CEO (inspirer), CFO (analyst), CHRO (enabler), or COO (implementer)) and learn to flex between these roles at different times
  2. Use awareness of your own emotional state to reduce the times when you act in ways that are unhelpful 
  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 at a time or one group of people at a time

This analytical approach is exactly what we might expect from consultants.

But not everybody thinks analytically  —  so making everyone in an organisation think this way is likely to be a) difficult and b) slow. And in a time of change, surely what we need is not more analysis but more ways of taking better actions faster?

This is why the Inner Leadership approach to 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 roles they feel most comfortable in and then learn to become better the three other roles they find difficult. Instead, give people the tools 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 and priorities, expressed in their terms. And then help them to apply that better, to become more of themselves more fully, in ways that develop and benefit both them and the organisation.
    .
  2. Give people the tools to become more aware of the assumptions they and others might be making during times of change. Use this to improve communication and problem-solving.
    These assumptions underly the “habitual thoughts and emotions” that the McKinsey authors talk about. So by showing people how to identify, test, and resolve their underlying assumptions we automatically prevent the unhelpful behaviours from arising when they are inappropriate.
    .
  3. Give people the tools to look for the opportunities in a crisis, to find more options to move forward, and to choose the best way forward.
    .
  4. Help people to inspire themselves and each other to make that chosen way forward happen — better and faster.

This, surely, is the desired outcome: not more analysis but better actions, implemented faster, and with more enthusiasm.

We think this is approach is more direct than McKinsey’s’. It doesn’t bog the organisation down in analysis. Instead it expands the range of options for action and builds the inspiration and momentum that make those actions 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, antifragile.

And people who know how to become antifragile create organisations that become antifragile.

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


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

You can sign up to daily posts here.

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.)

Leave a Reply