Using The Marshall Model

Using The Marshall Model

I’m guessing most folks don’t see themselves as change consultants, a.k.a. change agents. Which I find ironic, given the number of times folks have asked me questions like “how do I change my organisation?”.

The major reason I created the Marshall Model was to help folks approach change in their organisations. Absent an appreciation of where the organisation is, mindset-wise, any interventions (attempts at introducing change) are likely to be rather fraught, and involve much wasted time, effort, and yes, credibility, too.

Hence the subtitle for the Marshall Model – “Dreyfus for the Organisation”. Just like the Dreyfus Model of Skills Acquisition, the Marshall Model describes the different kinds of organisation a change agent might encounter (or be working in, or for, or with).

“All models are wrong – some are useful.”

~ George Box

Aside: The Dreyfus Model typically has five categories (of student), the Marshall Model, seven (organisational mindsets). As a quick reminder, these are:

Dreyfus Model


Has an incomplete understanding, approaches tasks mechanistically and needs supervision to complete them.

Advanced Beginner

Has a working understanding, tends to see actions as a series of steps, can complete simpler tasks without supervision.


Has a good working and background understanding, sees actions at least partly in context, able to complete work independently to a standard that is acceptable though it may lack refinement.


Has a deep understanding, sees actions holistically, can achieve a high standard routinely.


Has an authoritative or deep holistic understanding, deals with routine matters intuitively, able to go beyond existing interpretations, achieves excellence with ease.

Marshall Model

Novice Analytical
Competent Analytical
Early Synergistic
Mature Synergistic
Early Chaordic
Proficient Chaordic

The Marshall Model suggests that, in each of these seven kinds of organisation (discriminating by collective mindset), change agents may find they get better results (quicker, cheaper, less push-back, more sustainable) if they adapt their style of intervention, and the advice they offer, based on the specific needs of that kind of organisation.

For example, there’s not much point in suggesting advanced project management techniques to non-Analytical-minded organisations. Ad-hoc organisations typically won’t have even discovered projects and the project approach. And Synergistic- and Chaordic-minded organisation will have likely transcended the typical project approach, and therefore project management as a discipline, too.

Of course, this example is, by design, somewhat simplistic. Anyone with their eyes open could probably see quite quickly whether the project approach was a given in the organisation, and refrain from providing project-management related advice if not. For a wide range of other aspects of organisational life and performance, though, just looking at what’s visible – what appears to be happening – can be misleading.


The Marshall Model also illustrates the memes associate with each category of mindset. It does so in the belief that, once so informed, change agents can be more sensitive to the specific needs of their clients. And suggest (more effective) strategies for getting those needs met. Strategies more likely to be acceptable to the organisation, in its prevailing mindset.


Many change agents – and in particular, outside consultants – may spend their entire careers working in, with, or for Novice Analytical and Competent Analytical organisations. This is what the Rightshifting curve tells us – that the large majority of organisations everywhere are of this kind of (BTW relatively ineffective) mindset. In fact, the mainstream consulting industry is set up to serve organisations of these mindsets, almost exclusively. No surprise, really, given the commercial drivers (size of market, willingness to buy, suggestibility, etc.).

And given the preponderance of organisations having these two mindsets, many change agents may naturally assume that only these mindsets exist. And that their “standard” (Analytical-mindset friendly) approaches to consulting to their clients are all that is needed. So when they stumble into organisations having other mindsets, there can be some nasty surprises in store. Consultants and clients alike can wonder “what went wrong?” when these “standard” approaches – approaches tailored to the typical Novice Analytical or Competent Analytic organisation – prove unsuited and unsuccessful.

And more than this, the situation is compounded by the reluctance of organisations outside the Novice Analytical or Competent Analyticsl categories to entertain the idea of bringing in outside consultants, in any case.

Aside: Ad-hoc-minded organisations have little or no experience with using outside consultants, and hence little capability to use them well and get value out of them. Synergistic– and Chaordic-minded organisations see little value in outside consultants for other reasons: They are aware of how few consultants can adapt to providing advice suited to their situation and mindset. And aware, too, that their own people are likely more useful, capable and valuable than most outsiders

Main Postulates of the Marshall Model

The Marshall Model implies the following postulates:

  • Mindsets are interlocking, self-reinforcing collections of “memes” stored in the collective consciousness of an organisation.
  • Effective interventions in an organisation must by definition take into account the prevailing collective mindset.
  • Migrations (“transition”) from one mindset to another is a form of punctuated equilibrium.
  • The model holds only for organisations largely or wholly engaged in knowlege-work.
  • The relative effectiveness of any knowlege-work organisation can be explained with this model.
  • Organisational effectiveness does not necessarily equate to commercial success.
  • The model implicitly views shifts in organisational mindset as an evolutionary process in several dimension: suddenly or gradually, over time; individually or collectively; smoothly or disruptively.

Brass Tacks

If you’re a change agent, whether internal or external, experienced or beginner, the Marshall Model provides categories that, once assigned, allow you to assess the likelihood of success for intervention ideas, without necessarily having to pilot or fully implement such ideas.

[I would love to have your advice and help in deciding what more to add, just here].

– Bob

Further Reading

Novice to Expert: the Dreyfus model of skill acquisition ~ Stan Lester (pdf)

  1. Thanks, This is a good start. More examples, maybe separate posts, that shows likely responses to approaches that don’t fit the organizations learning model and alternative approaches that have a chance of moving them to the right.

  2. Hi Bob, few comments:

    Firstly, this is starting to satisfy my need for simple, elegant information 🙂 To satisfy this need more, could you consider the following?

    I thought there were only 4 kinds – now 7? I think you’re muddying the waters by expanding some in to novice-proficient. It’s certainly a pattern / sub-categorisation to apply to each of the Orgs, so I’d vote for keeping the categories down at 4

    Memeplexes – could you do a table with the MM categories and their corresponding Memeplexes?

    Myopia need “tightening up” a bit more and I’m wondering if you could use as slightly less loaded word…?

    Why is the model restricted to “largely or wholly engaged in knowlege-work”?

    Being a visual person, I’d like some more pictures / graphs

    After this, it would be great to have some “Use Case Stories” about the transitions which are couched in terms and the framework / pattern of what you’ve presented here

    Just occured to me that a “Marshall Model A3 Worksheet” could be a great tool for beginners and people looking to put a “Marshall Toe” in the water

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