4 Ways to Manage Change With the McKinsey Influence Model

How can leaders and founders get their teams on board with a big pivot?


Jason R. Waller

3 years ago | 4 min read

How can leaders and founders get their teams on board with a big pivot? How do we think about influencing others and creating change in a group? Why do some changes stick, while others fall apart almost immediately?

As a consultant at McKinsey & Company, one of the earliest frameworks we learned was called the influence model. It’s a great way to think through how to actually create sustainable change in an organization.

See this recent McKinsey article on the influence model and this decade-old article that started it all.

The Influence Model

The McKinsey influence model is built on four tried-and-true pillars of sustainable change:

  • Role modeling
  • Understanding and conviction
  • Talent and skills
  • Formal mechanisms

All this is centered on one theme: what can I do, as a leader, to actually cascade down a change that I’m trying to make in the organization? This is relevant for any leader, but for startup founders, trying to architect the culture and mission of their new team, it’s especially important.

Image by Jason R. Waller, content from McKinsey & Company
Image by Jason R. Waller, content from McKinsey & Company

Role Modeling

If we want to make changes stick, we as leaders need to live those changes out ourselves. This is perhaps the most important aspect of the influence model, partly because of how powerful good role modeling is and partly because of how detrimental bad role modeling is.

If we tell people that everyone needs to do X, then they see their leaders doing Y, nothing really sticks. We send a loud and clear message that what we’re trying to do isn’t really that important.

No amount of skills training, incentives, etc. can overcome the perception that this change doesn’t really matter.

When making a change sticky, exemplify that change and live it out visibly and clearly. Rally other leaders to set the example and cascade that change down through the organization.

  • Take time to deliberately role model the new change
  • Highlight this — share in weekly meetings, post on the Slack channel, etc.
  • Hold others to account and be sincere about leaders living the change

Understanding and Conviction

We must clearly communicate down and around what’s expected with a change. It’s not enough to say what’s happening, but also why and how. Solicit buy-in and create a change that’s compelling, not just “because I told you so.”

Moving into a new way of working isn’t always easy. Culture is slow to adapt and it can sometimes feel like trying steering a cruise ship with a dinner spoon.

The more we can create understanding and conviction in our team, the more fuel a transformation in the team has.

  • Structure and share a clear change story, e.g. newsletter or video
  • Create space to address questions, create dialog, and celebrate successes
  • Check that everyone understands what’s expected of them (and agree)

Talent and Skills

Now we look to changes we can make at the organizational level. One of the key areas to think about is talent. After a pivot, what are the skills required, both technical and relational, to achieve our new goals?

This is not just important to practically delivering on outcomes, but is also critical to motivating our people. If we put a stake in the ground for a big change, but fail to provide support, training, and opportunities to grow, we lose on the culture side.

  • Map out current skills and capabilities versus what’s needed in the new model
  • Identify how to up-skill those already within the organization or reorganize talent
  • Get moving on hiring in the talent that’s missing

Formal Mechanisms

The last area of the influence model is often not as effective at driving organizational change as the other three. But it is often the first area leaders look to. Formal mechanisms and incentives can work and work well, but we should focus on what really matters.

Firstly, we should make sure that the systems and processes we have in place are all tracking the new goals. How aligned are our KPIs? Are we tracking and measuring the right stuff? Do we know what success looks like?

Next, we should look to how we reward others for that success. Focus first on non-financial incentives, what I call respect, recognition, and responsibility. How are we praising others and acknowledging good work? What kind of awards or visibility can we give to call out good behaviors? What new opportunities to lead tasks or teams can we create?

Financial rewards, such as bonuses and promotions, can be used as well but might not have as much sway as we think. Research shows that non-financial incentives are not only perceived as less effective than financial incentives but are also less frequently used.

  • Ensure systems and processes are in place to support the change
  • Leverage non-financial reward to reward others effectively and efficiently
  • Leverage financial rewards to further incentivize

Bringing It All Together

Role modeling, understanding and conviction, talent and skills, and formal mechanisms are the four cornerstones of the McKinsey influence model. These have been tested over the years by people smarter than I, but I’ve also seen them have an amazing impact in practice.

It’s often not enough to just have one or two — if you’re leading a company or a team and want to make change really stick, try to have elements from all four. Take stock of what you’re doing and where you’re light. Create a plan to close the gaps. Successful transformation begins with leadership.

Good luck.


Jason R. Waller is a combat veteran, ex-McKinsey consultant, and executive coach who works with startup executives and leaders of global companies.

Originally published in The Startup


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Jason R. Waller

Leadership and performance coach to passionate humans; combat veteran, ex-consultant, writer, founder







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