The other day, I was trying to explain a strange phenomenon to a business partner: if you’ve worked at McKinsey & Company, you can easily spot another McKinsey alum by their working style. There’s just something about the way we were trained to communicate and interact that’s like a secret handshake. I even still find myself saying things like “At McKinsey, we did it this way…”
I had some theories on what McKinsey does differently that sets their employees apart, so I asked a few of my former McKinsey chums what their best McKinsey lessons were. Surprisingly, I kept getting small variations on the same five answers.
Training. Everyone goes through weeks of training when they first start. Everyone. When I started, I was shocked to learn that I wouldn’t be unleashed on any real work for at least 3 weeks. I sat in a room with the other new hires and went through training, every… single… day. At the time, I wondered if the firm had taken a cue from the army – sequestering us in consulting firm bootcamp and breaking us down to build us back up the right way! Whatever the case, it built great camaraderie among us new folks, and when I sat down at my new desk for the first time post-training, I really felt like I knew what was going on. My first day after training, other people who had been with the firm for decades could rely on me to perform tasks exactly as they expected.
Rules for Everybody. On your first day of training, you receive your very own copy of the “bible”: the McKinsey rulebook. These aren’t just your typical HR-centric employee guidelines; there are sections on how to formulate solutions to problems, sections on how to proofread your work in teams, sections on AP style for writing. No one is special or exempt: we were all expected to learn the proper usage of an em-dash, double-check our work with a partner, and use the time-tested McKinsey 7s Framework. Consequently, if one person starts writing a document and a different person finishes the document, the final document is cohesive – no differences in language or approach. And if I needed a second pair of eyes, I could count on anybody nearby to look over my work.
Mentoring. There’s a theme here: everybody was assigned to a mentor. Everybody. For McKinsey, training didn’t stop. A mentor was assigned to every new employee for a period of time – it makes sense when you realize that the firm is built on an advance-or-get-out mentality. But maybe that’s a good thing… you are left with a company full of people that want to be there, and no one can really say they weren’t given the tools to be successful.
Focus on Communication. This is the first thing that always jumps out at me when I’m communicating with a current or former McKinsey employee: they’ve got their communication skills honed to near-perfection. After weeks spent learning proper protocol, time allocated to learning from your mentor, and with the big, fat bible of McKinsey rules for reference, these guys are primed to be responsive and communicative. When everyone around you is on the ball like that, you tend to pick up their good habits. Eventually, it becomes second nature.
Snack Closet! OK, it’s not all army bootcamp and protocol! There were “hidden” snack closets, replenished weekly, on the main floor with fun goodies like fruit roll-ups and those crackers and cheese that come with the red stick. Since most employees work outrageous hours at some time or another (sometimes quite frequently), there were company-sponsored ski trips, Friday catered lunches (to encourage on-assignment consultants to stop into the office once a week and hang out with their peers), and gym membership reimbursements. They want you to work hard – really, really hard – but they take care of you too. When my father was ill, the travel department took care of all my travel arrangements for me so I didn’t have to think about it; another friend of mine was diagnosed with cancer, and she didn’t have to pay a dime for treatments that probably would have bankrupted her otherwise.
These lessons stayed with me, and it is my hope that all those that come out of McKinsey carry on the practice of preparing, guiding, and taking care of their employees. I’ll do my best to share the good things I learned with others.
I'm a graphic + web designer/developer and closet airbrush artist (the 80s called and I answered). I'm passionate about sustainability and community, and I'm a big fan of my hometown, Pasadena, California.Follow @bethkuchar