McKinsey’s Influence model of leading change says that to lead change effectively you need to do four main things. These are: foster understanding and conviction, reinforce with formal mechanisms, develop talent and skills and role model.

Summary by The World of Work Project

Mckinsey’s Influence Model of Leading Change

Diagram showing the four elements of Mckinsey's Influence Model of Leading Change

This model of change lays out four key things that leaders need to do to ensure that they can effectively lead change. Each one of these steps affects how people on the receiving end of change think about it, and their experience of it. If you get them right, they may change their mindset and behaviors and change as desired. We look at each in turn below.

Foster Understanding and Conviction

As with some other change models, one of the first things you have to do when leading change is to get buy in. The people you are asking to change need to understand why a change is in their interest or important. Furthermore, they must develop the willingness and determination to change, if they are to really do so.

There are several different ways to go about developing understanding and conviction. We know that people are emotional beings and connect with stories and emotional content. Connecting to them through this type of content is much stronger than connecting through facts and data.

We also know that people are much more connected with things they create themselves, or ideas they reach and contribute to. Given this, it’s worth looking to co-create the changes you aim to achieve with your team. Explaining a situation and asking for their thoughts and feedback on the future is a great first step.

It’s important as well to remember that different people move through their emotional responses to change at different paces. The change curve is a good way to think of this emotional journey. Individuals leading change are almost always further ahead in the change journey than others. It’s important to slow down, repeat key messages and listen. More often than not, those leading change think they have explained and communicated well, while in reality their messages have not been heard at all.

It might be worth looking at some of our posts on communication.

Stories can be magically powerful

Want to be a better manager?

 Consider our Connected Management development programme. Every year we run an open cohort of our Connected Management programme for those working in small organisations or organisations that are not able to funder development. The programme is £1100 per person with discounts of up to 40% for self-funders and non-profits.


In 2024, we have a cohort on Wednesday 3.30pm UK time and Thursdays 9am UK time from April 17/18. It comprises 10 online live workshops with two great facilitators and access to a bank of support materials. Learn more about the programme by clicking below.

Reinforce with Formal Mechanisms

The second step of Mckinsey’s Influence Model of Leading Change is to reinforce with formal mechanisms.

Reinforcement theory in the workplace really just means that our actions have consequences. These consequences can be positive or negative. For example, if we do something good, we may receive a good outcome. In work this might be a financial bonus. Alternatively, if we do something bad it might be a negative outcome. This could be a low performance rating, or a reprimand. Through these reinforcements individuals in work are steered towards certain behaviors.

There are many different types of reinforcement mechanisms. For example we can have informal reinforcement. An example of this might be a boss frowning when a bad suggestion is made. Alternatively, they could be formal. For example, you could have a contractual commission based bonus structure. All of these little factors affect an individual’s motivations and future behaviors.

When you’re leading change it’s important to make sure that your formal organizational mechanisms are designed to reinforce the behaviors you want. There are many different ways you can do this. We’d suggest that as part of a behavioral change program that you start by categorizing your formal mechanisms then review them one by one. As you review, you may need to change or refine them to ensure they support your desired behaviors. And remember, people are clever and will “game” any metrics that haven’t been well thought through.

We think of reinforcement like guide rails. It helps keep things on track.

Develop Talent and Skills

Change almost always involves the introduction of something new. Or the move to something new. And with this almost always comes the need for people to work or behave in new ways. They may need to operate in new structures, may need to use new systems or may need to perform new tasks.

If we are to be successful in leading our change, we need to help our people through this process. We need to help them understand the talents and skills expected of them and we need to help them develop these new skills. There are many different ways we can do this. The methods we choose will vary, but the key message is that we need to build in time to support this element of change.

And there’s more. Not only should we help people with the more technical side of developing talent and skills, we should also help them through the emotional and personal developmental aspects of learning new skills. These changes can be scary. Every time we try something new there is a risk of failure, there are risks of social threat and there is an emotional investment.

To overcome some of these challenges we need to create good environments for people to develop in, as well as giving them time to develop. We might want to support them through coaching to overcome negative self-talk associated with learning new things. And we might want to help them with their mindsets.

Role Model

The last part of Mckinsey’s Influence Model of Leading Change is to role model.

People like to copy other people…

As we mention throughout this website, humans are predominantly social beings. We pick up social cues from those around us, and we often mirror their behaviors.

Leaders cast long shadows. The behaviors that they adopt send signals far and wide within their organizations. The things that they pay attention to are paid attention to by others and the things they ignore are ignored by others. If they are in early in the morning, others will be. If they permit poor behaviors in meetings, so will others.

So it follows that one of the most powerful tools of leadership is role modelling. If leaders are to lead change well, they need to role model the new behaviors and ways of working that they wish others to adopt. They need to pay attention to the changes and focus on them. After all, if they say they are important then ignore them themselves, then so will everyone else.

It’s worth noting that thought leaders are hugely important when it comes to role modelling, that they are not the only influencers in their organizations. Organizational networks are complex and many people in them can develop social power. When leading change, it’s important to try and get a collection of influential individuals to role models the new behaviors or changes you are hoping to embed.

Learning More

Organizations often seek to change and improve, and often use organizational development programs to do so. There are many models that seek to explain how change in organizations happens. Some models to consider in the first instance include Kotter’s 8 Step Model, The Burke-Litwin Model and the ADKAR model. You might also enjoy another McKinsey model, the McKinsey 7 S model of Change. We look at how some of these models are similar in this post.

You might enjoy our podcast exploring critiques of change theory. You can listen to it below:

The World of Work Project View

McKinsey’s Influence Model of Leading Change is a fine model. It’s helpful to be aware of. In many ways it’s quite similar to some of the other models we discuss in that it thinks about how it feels to be on the receiving end of change and it seeks to influence how it feels. We like the fact that it calls out the importance of psychology and of leadership role-modelling as well.

We think it is, though, perhaps potentially more top-down than we’d like to see. At least in the four sections it details. As a model it provides little explicit share of voice or opportunity for input from those on the receiving end of change. We think co-creation is important, as is listening, and there’s little explicit space in this model for this.

Similarly, there seems to be limited attention drawn to the need to reflect, observe and course correct if needed. Of course, all these things can be brought into the delivery of any change program. It’s just important to be aware of these additional requirements if you are to deliver change well with this approach.

In summary we think it’s a helpful read for when leading change, but that it’s worth supplementing it with more information from other models.

Our Podcast

Our Podcast is a great way to learn more about hundreds of fascinating topics from around the world of work.

You can learn more about this model in one of McKinsey’s first articles on it“The psychology of change management”.

We’re a small organization who know we make mistakes and want to improve them. Please contact us with any feedback you have on this post. We’ll usually reply within 72 hours.