1. Brief description: A leading strategy consulting Firm with its people as its largest assets
McKinsey & Company is a global management consulting firm that serves leading businesses, governments, non governmental organizations, and not-for-profits. McKinsey helps clients make sustainable improvements to their performance and realize their most important goals. They’ve been operating for almost a century (89 years to be accurate). (1) Given the industry, McKinsey’s core assets is its people.
2. McKinsey creates sustainable value for clients of which it extracts fixed fee or % of monetary value
McKinsey has a dual mission: “help clients make distinctive, lasting, and substantial improvements in their performance and to build a great firm that attracts, develops, excites, and retains exceptional people.” (2) For the purposes of this discussion we will focus on the first, but it is clear that number 2 is essential given McKinsey’s biggest assets being its employees. So what kind of “improvements” does McKinsey help make? The answer depends on the function (e.g. whether McKinsey is supporting clients do: a) strategy refresh, b) operational improvements, c) organization re-design, d) transformations, etc… However, McKinsey’s customer promise is a positive change that is:
a. Substantial and relevant: The change must be relevant at a company-level, ideally, one of the top priorities of the CEO. McKinsey basically helps takes a CEO approach to Problem Solving and looks at the organization from the point of view of the CEO
b. Measurable: The effects of the change must be measurable, ideally quantitatively. It is critical for the McKinsey team and the client team to align on key metrics that should be measured. This is specifically relevant when the fee is a % of monetary value created
c. Sustainable: The boost to a company’s performance should be sustainable over several years after the McKinsey team leaves.
McKinsey then captures part of this value created through its fixed fees per project or a % share of the monetary value created for the client over a certain period of time (e.g. extra Net profit for then next 3 years) or through fixed fees conditioned on the actual achievement of the performance management. In addition to direct monetary gains, McKinsey sought to build and sustain relationships with its clients.
3. McKinsey’s continuously evolving Operating Model is designed around its Business Model
McKinsey designs and continuously refines its Operating model using 3 pillars of lean, centered around customer-centricity:
a. Technical System
b. Management Infrastructure
c. Mindsets and behaviors
The framework is depicted below. (3) Each pillar is tightly linked to the Core value proposition
a. Technical System
Technical System is in a way the hardware of the company: How are resources allocated to the projects? McKinsey’s solution is simple: a relationship-manager partner and a small dedicated teams supported by a wide expert network and a research arm (with a budget larger than the top 10 B-schools combined – don’t quote me on this). This ensures that the changes are substantial and relevant as follows:
- The partner, who oversees all projects with the same client, ensures connection with the CEO of the company thereby maintaining a connection between the CEO’s top priorities and the Core On-the-Ground team. This ensures the changes are substantial
- The Core team is full time on the project, meets with client employees across all levels of the organizations and ensures McKinsey understands the client’s perspective, and that the proposed solutions are relevant and applicable to the company environment. The Core team agrees with the client on ways to “see” the impact of the change, ensuring measurable metrics
- Research department ensures that the most cutting-edge solutions/ innovations as well as the most traditional “game-books” are surfaced to the team
- The Experts have seen similar projects across multiple industries and geographies, ensure the recommendation is practical and helps team think through unexpected problems that have emerge on previous projects. The change after-all needs to be sustainable, and this requires the changes to be seamlessly implemented over time, after the McKinsey teams leaves the project.
The processes of the project work are flexible, but the quality systems are rigorous: Developed recommendations should be signed off by each key stakeholder, including the partner, the experts, other partners who have previously worked with the client or have relevant expertise in the area, the client employees across multiple levels of the organization, and ultimately, the highest level main client counter-part (usually company CEO).
In addition, McKinsey teams and partner follow up with the client after completion of the project to ensure the performance metrics are being monitored, and are showing positive impact. The Feedback loop is necessary for the continuous learning of McKinsey (more in section c. below)
b. Management Infrastructure
The Management infrastructure includes the performance management as well as the talent management. This matches McKinsey’s dual mission of client impact and people development.
- The performance management matches exactly with the value proposition: for example, each consultant’s performance is measured across multiple metrics, including for example the analytical problem solving skills, and whether the consultant is able to step back from a problem to think about it through a CEO’s mindset. This ensures that the solution/ changes proposed are substantial and relevant. Similar metrics exist for the partner, the experts and the researchers.
- The talent management is also rock solid: starting from the case interview, every interviewee is subjected to a problem faced by a top level executive of a company (usually real life examples) with no guidance on information availability. The candidate should be able to hone in on the problem and ask for the right information to look for. After all, in an actual work environment, getting information is time consuming, and so, if a consultant does not know what information to look for, the project might take a lot of time and end up being irrelevant with non-substantial changes recommended. Similarly, candidates are judged based on their analytical skills, and whether or not they are able to define numerical metrics to track performance for certain changes. Post recruiting, consultants are subjected to on-the-job coaching as well as formal training.
c. Mindsets and behaviors
Mindsets and behaviors are basically the software of the company. The two most relevant topics are:
- Ownership of the problem: For changes recommended to be practical, and thereby sustainable and substantial, the team should “own” the problem. The core consultant team takes full accountability for the problem. This indirectly leads to performance across all 3 value proposition metrics. For example, the team understands that it can only “manage what it can measure” and would thereby recommend measurable change
- Continuous Learning: To deliver sustainable changes, McKinsey ensures that its tracks whether its previous recommendations has led to actual sustainable change at the client. This is the feedback loop discussed in section a. above. The feedback loop monitors sub-optimal performance and comes back with actionable steps. An example of continuous improvement is the launch of “McKinsey implementation”. Given the criteria of measured impact at their client (and sometimes McKinsey fees being conditional on the achievement of this impact), McKinsey has realized that there were many instances (especially in emerging markets), were clients faced multiple practical obstacles while implementing the recommendations suggested by the McKinsey team. The issues were driven by either impractical recommendations or limited capabilities at the client (or both). In both scenarios, McKinsey took on the challenge of implementation and launched “McKinsey implementation”, a group of expert implementation consultants who would work hand-in-hand with the clients to implement the recommendations and ensure proper and sustainable knowledge transfer.