Posts filed under ‘Leadership’

Lesson from McKinsey: setup for success

Despite the sleepless nights, 48-hour workdays and endless travel, I’m glad to have had my time at McKinsey & Company. There are a lot of reasons, but let’s focus on their pre-interview process.

As for the interviews themselves, they can be tough.

For example:

I walk into 555 California in San Francisco, go to the reception desk to get my visitor badge, and head up to the 47th floor.

In the elevator, I look down at my polished Kenneth Cole shoes, straighten my $250 tie (which I couldn’t have afforded, but was donated by a supporter), and I pat down my recently laundered suit to get off any rebellious lint.

Meanwhile, frameworks, calculations, and the populations of many of the world’s countries (Indonesia = 220m, Japan = 125m, UK = 60m…) are racing through my brain.

I’m nervous.

I get to the 47th floor, walk to the receptionist and introduce myself. She instructs me to sit, and I wait as calming music plays out of an old school boom box in the corner.

The partner comes out, introduces himself and we step into his corner office overlooking the San Francisco Bay. After getting over the view, I sit in a chair across the desk from him and he decides to calm my nerves by saying “So, Terrence, I hear you’re smart. Let’s see if it’s true.”

Gulp.

McKinsey Partner: Apple comes out with the iPod. It’s a success. Microsoft decides to do something similar.

He pauses and about 10 seconds pass….

Me: And…

McKinsey Partner: That’s it. Walk me through it.

I ask him a clarifying question and he responds with “I’m giving you nothing,” so I guess was on my own.

Within it about 5 minutes I’d sketched up what Microsoft should be thinking about, what types of facilities they might likely need and where they should be located (making it all up, of course). Then I was doing Net Present Value calculations in my head.

All stuff I’m pretty sure I couldn’t do today.

As I think back, I wonder how I got to that point. Before I started the interview process, I couldn’t have done most of this, and as I just said, I likely couldn’t do it now.

Truth is, my brain functioned this way during the process because McKinsey set it up that way. McKinsey doesn’t use the interview as a mechanism to trick or confuse (though it happens). Rather, they want to know how far your brain can stretch, and whether you’re effectively able to structure problem sets.

Before your first interview, they make sure that you have everything that you’d need to go through the entire process and get the offer.

Every candidate is given a “buddy” who explains the interview process and provides case coaching. You meet with your buddy 2 or 3 times before your first interview, and in-between rounds. Even on their website, McKinsey provides sample cases and interview tips.

Their goal is to ensure that the only reason that you don’t make it through is because you shouldn’t make it through. You have coaching, you have tips, you have insights, you have the freedom to ask all the right questions. Now it’s up to you.

This is a rare approach, but one we should all keep in mind.

For organizations:

  • When an initiative is launched, is it set up for success, or destined failure?
  • When an employee is promoted, do they have all the tools and resources to succeed?
  • When criticizing management, have you provided them with enough information to make effective decisions?

Outside of business, I see friends enter relationships where they’re not giving their boy/girlfriend any remote chance of success (baggage!).

For something to succeed, it has to be given more than just a chance. Take this lesson from McKinsey: we can all learn from it.

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March 26, 2011 at 2:05 pm Leave a comment

Empower, don’t encourage


Photo courtesy of Kapungo on Flickr Some rights reserved

To risk, or not to risk, that is the question.

Empowerment is a buzz word thrown around a lot. I’ve seen it used too lightly in most circumstances, generally being defined as allowing someone to make their own decision. Technically, that may be an appropriate definition of the word, but it’s a weak one.

Empowering someone means setting them up to succeed. It does not mean simply telling them “you can do anything you set your mind to.” It’s about support, knowledge, resources, tools, guidance, confidence, and faith. All of the above.

Encouragement is not empowerment, and confusing these notions is careless and dangerous.

I’m all about empowering youth. And I’m all about entrepreneurship among youth. I’m not all about young people taking misguided risks. If you’re in the business of helping young entrepreneurs, then make sure they know the potential costs, as well as benefits, of what they’re doing.

Don’t get me wrong. I love risk…I thrive on it. Throwing myself to the wolves is what makes me happy. So I’m not trying to tell young entrepreneurs not to accept, and even embrace, risk. Rather, I’m sending a message to those supporting these young entrepreneurs to ensure that they are truly empowering them to succeed.

Successful entrepreneurship is as much about knowledge and learning as it is about hard work and persistence. Learn from mistakes, and learn from failure, when they happen (when…not if).

Ideas will fail. Ideas come and go. People are what matters. And my goal is to empower people so that they can succeed with any idea, not just the one that their current business plan is built around.

I work with young entrepreneurs everyday, whether at work, or in my side gig at NFTE. The most frequent mistake that I see is emphasis on the idea. How do I market this idea?…How do I project revenue for this idea…How do convince investors that my idea is worthwhile?

All valid questions and, of course, I guide them through this learning process. However, I add the most value by convincing young entrepreneurs that I’m not here to empower their ideas, I’m here to empower them as people. And part of that empowerment is educating them about the costs of both success and failure, and making sure that they’re ready for each.

Not all time is equal. This is why many will encourage people to start companies early in their careers. I support this, and it’s why I choose to call Silicon Valley home. However, as Vivek Wadhwa points out, those over 40 “are far more likely to be the founder of a successful technology company than most of you understand.”

The obvious reason is that they’ve led both successful and failed operations in the past. They’ve got that experience to build on. This is true, but it’s learning from that experience, and not just the experience itself, that makes the difference.

It takes active thought to learn from what’s happening around you, and the most successful young entrepreneurs will be those that can absorb, learn and adapt the fastest.

So the next time you’re in a position to empower, don’t just give them the keys and a push out the door. Tell them what to do when the car breaks down, and make sure they know what alternate routes they can take. Empower, don’t encourage. It’ll go a long way.

March 12, 2011 at 6:38 pm Leave a comment

Learning when to drive

out car window
Photo courtesy of calico_13 on Flickr, Some rights reserved

Leading is tough. The vision of your department, your company, the completion of the next project, or the careers of those you’re leading can rest on your shoulders. Added pressure changes perception.

My girlfriend and I went on a Best Buy expedition this weekend to pick up a new TV, a WiFi-enabled Blu Ray DVD player (highly recommended), and the Windows 7 OS for a newly built computer that I dying to fire up.

She owns a car in the city and I don’t, so she’s typically driving everywhere. However, the adrenaline from knowing that I would soon be standing in the spectacle that is electronics heaven made me want to take the reigns, so I drove us around town.

San Francisco is a relatively easy city to drive in. It’s small and, for the most part, grid-like. However, I still managed to get us turned around a few times with what I called “short cuts,” and what my girlfriend called “the wrong way.”

Nevertheless, just as one of my short cuts seemed to be turning into a move of pure brilliance I looked over at my girlfriend for a well deserved bragging session. She was gazing out of the car window.

She’s from here and knows SF well, but the way she was staring you would think it was her first trip to the big city. It was an adorable expression (of which she has many), so I lovingly inquired, “What’s up?”

“Life looks so different when you’re the passenger. I’m always driving. Guess I miss a lot of this.”

She said a lot with those words. While I was getting turned around because I hadn’t driven in awhile, it seemed that she was seeing the city for the first time in a long time.

When leading, we see things differently, just like driving. We often get in the driver’s seat, hit the gas, aim and get to our destination as fast as we can. If it’s somewhere that we’ve been plenty of times, we throw it in autopilot and barely remember the trip.

From time to time let someone else drive. This is a growth opportunity for you and others involved. Like my girlfriend, you’ll see things that you’ve seen many times before, but it may just feel like the first time.

“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time”

– T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets

January 31, 2011 at 10:38 pm 8 comments


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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