Simplicity, and knowing what to do

January 10, 2011 at 4:09 pm 1 comment

Throughout my life I’ve had the privilege (and sometimes misfortune) of being the confidant/adviser for a number of people from many backgrounds, and in a variety of situations. Lucky for me, many of these same people are happy to be there in return.

A statement that comes up 9 out of 10 times during discussions is “OK, that’s the story, and I don’t know what to do.” The truth is that I can’t think of a time when the person explaining the situation to me didn’t give me the answer themselves at some point during the story. Often the issue isn’t around knowing “what to do” but rather “how to do it”…or, better yet, how to do it without hurting someone’s feelings, leaving one’s comfort zone, or releasing one’s position with “pride” intact. This has held consistently whether the conversation was about a serious relationship, family, or even hitting on the girl next door.

confused monkey
Photo courtesy of Michael Keen Some rights reserved

I’ve seen similar situations like this pop up in business many times. About three or four years ago, when I was at McKinsey & Company, I was leading a 6-month long high profile, public facing project that required participation from more than 100 partners and directors across the organization. Getting this many people (including the financial and industry experts involved) herded and heading in the right direction is always a complicated effort; however, for the most part, we had the necessary frameworks, models and outlines in place for the process to go as smoothly as possible.

However, there was one, not so tiny, hitch. You see, the core work of the project was the financial valuation of over 300 privately held organizations, 60% of which had been McKinsey clients, or at least had some affiliation with McKinsey. Since the results would be public knowledge, published in a major global periodical, there was understandable unease from certain partners. For those that don’t know, McKinsey is, for good reason, very protective of client information. And while we, of course, respected and protected all necessary firewalls to ensure that the only data we would be releasing would not be client-sensitive, the fear of negative client reaction remained.

At the time, I fought for “academic integrity” and “clean data” with no compromises. This was my background and what I thought was right, no questions asked. However, this approach put me quite at odds with some powerful voices (….and fists…) at the firm. Not a good position to be in…trust me.

About 6 weeks before deadline I came to a crossroads. I didn’t know what to do. Keep standing my ground? Or “give in” to the pressure of leaving out certain organizations due to potential poor client perception…thus “compromising the integrity” of the whole project. If I didn’t uphold the quality of the data, I believed that it would hurt the credibility of the firm, as well as reflect poorly upon my own abilities. On the other hand, I had a political onslaught from some big names to deal with. Neither of these touched the real issue, but I still went back and forth and complicated the crap out of the choice.

In the end, I chose to fight. The wrong choice. About five days before deadline the whole thing was scrapped. This decision came down to one director whom I’d never met but still managed to spend quite some time on my black list (for what that was worth…pretty much nothing) because I felt like all my work was thrown in the trash. I now understand that the director made the right choice. While I can still understand my position, what I missed at the time was that the choice was simple. Line 1 of McKinsey’s Values is “Put the client’s interest ahead of our own.” Bottom line: dropping the fight was in our client’s best interest. This is the benefit of having a strong value structure – this works both professionally and personally.

Humans naturally complicate everything that we touch. Stepping out of the weeds of a decision can often make knowing “what to do” very clear, whether in the workplace or in that current bad relationship that all of our friends (and ourselves when we’re honest) know that we’re in.

Entry filed under: Main Posts.

A move from Microsoft’s playbook?

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. webrtc  |  July 22, 2014 at 4:07 pm

    Theatres need to be able to reach outt to the public to ensure that the widest possible mwrket is tapped into.
    She soon recruited accomplices from tthe night shift to engage in this.
    You caan create different circles community based on people’s
    nterest and there relation with you.


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About Me

I'm a San Francisco-based strategic thinker who believes that life is only as great as the people you choose to interact with. I love people, and studying business has given me greater insight into how to most effectively develop myself, and my personal relationships. I look forward to discussing people and business with those that find this area as fascinating as I do.

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