Over three decades ago, the international consulting firm, McKinsey & Co., introduced the idea of the 7-Ss -- a combination of hard and soft levers that managers can pull to transform the organizations they run.
What is surprising and helpful is that the 7-Ss framework can work for startups as well as large organizations.
The 7-Ss are as follows:
- Strategy is a set of choices about which customers a company will serve and how it will deliver them competitively superior value.
- Structure refers to how people are organized -- it could be along functional, product, or other lines -- to get work done.
- Systems measure the performance of the organization and provide the information needed to decide how to motivate and reward people.
- Skills are what the company can do well, like selling, engineering or manufacturing.
- Staff are the individuals who perform these jobs.
- Style is the way that leaders get things done. For example, they can command and control or they can seek to create a shared vision that will motivate people to do the right things on their own.
- Shared Values is the enduring purpose for the organization.
The 7-Ss are a mix of hard Ss, like strategy, structure, systems and skills, and soft Ss that include staff, style and shared values.
Startups that want to boost their growth rate can use the 7-Ss -- but they should start by changing the soft ones.
Consider the case of Tewksbury,-Mass.-based TimeTrade, which quickly matches and schedules customers with the service representative who has the specific knowledge and experience that customer needs. When Gary Ambrosino joined TimeTrade in 2010 as CEO he had the idea of turning it into a service that could deliver an experience like the Apple genius bar.
By March 2015, TimeTrade had sold this service to 500 large companies, including seven of the 20 largest banks and eight of the 100 largest retailers. Moreover, its employee count was growing fast from 20 in 2014 to 67 in March with 100 expected by the end of 2015.
How did Ambrosino achieve this rapid growth?
Ambrosino has over 30 years of experience running high technology companies along with a BS in electrical engineering from Cornell and a Harvard MBA and has developed principles of growth that he calls "structural things" and "leadership."
His leadership principles correspond to the soft and hard Ss. And for TimeTrade, the most important starting point was what McKinsey calls Shared Values and Ambrosino referred to as a Common Vision.
"To improve our performance, it is essential that I consistently and persistently communicate why the company exists and what problem it is trying to solve for customers and partners," he explained.
Ambrosino's style is less command and control than communicate, listen and adapt. He said, "We try to keep from becoming too rigid by listening to people and encouraging them to find their own ways to realize this common vision."
This common vision helps to recruit the right staff as well. TimeTrade can use its culture as a tool for deciding whom to hire. And its employees can serve as excellent sources of new talent.
While the soft Ss help unlock the potential of TimeTrade's people and direct it in a common direction, the hard Ss help the company to get work done more efficiently.
TimeTrade is using structure and systems, for example, to help the company stay aligned as it adds people. Ambrosino said, "When a company gets to over 30 people, you can't get everyone on the same page in the lunchroom. We needed to build structures and processes so people would communicate effectively -- using email and weekly meetings."
While TimeTrade is hardly a huge company, its rapid growth suggests that if you want to boost your venture's growth change the soft Ss to energize and motivate your people to head in the right direction, and then change the hard Ss to achieve that common purpose more efficiently.