Using McKinsey & BCG Skills
Hi everyone and welcome to another episode of Fridays with Firmsconsulting.
Today’s episode is dedicated to those learning strategy, operations and implementation skills: our Executive Program members. And, if you don’t already know about it, the Executive Program teaches members the key skills of McKinsey, BCG and other major consulting firms. If you work through each study carefully, you will be able to walk into any strategy, operations or implementation project and successfully compete it.
In this episode we will talk about one of the most common challenges clients encounter as they apply their newly learned skills. And to explain this problem we will discuss the experience of a real client named Peter.
Peter is a devoted Executive Program member employed by the consulting unit within an outsourcing company. He wants to use the Executive Program to help his team streamline their due-diligence approach. Peter feels they are not prioritizing the analyses, thereby wasting time and money. The team also lacks storyboarding skills, which results in key insights missed by senior management and, consequently, the influence of his team is very weak.
Peter has taken significant time to teach his team how to use the concepts, techniques and tools he learned from the Executive Program, including how to use decision trees and hypotheses to build analyses, how to develop storyboards from analyses, and how to use storyboards to present to management. He has also focused on the art of communication.
Yet, his team refuses to use the new approach. Sounds familiar? We call this problem the Credibility Trap.
There are 3 layers of the Credibility Trap. Layer #1 is your credibility in terms of your perceived understanding of the approach you want your team to adopt. Layer #2 is your perceived ability to teach the approach and lead the roll-out. Layer #3 is your perceived reliability to see this effort through to completion.
Now let’s unpack what is happening here. When Peter explains this new way of doing strategy analyses and says this is how McKinsey is doing it, I think we can first agree that his team probably thinks if McKinsey is doing it, it must be a good idea and probably worth considering.
Yet, while Peter may explain to the team the value of this new approach, and while the explanation may make sense, Peter is the only one in the group who allegedly understands what to do. So even if the team thinks it’s a good idea, they would have to rely on Peter and trust him, for this to work.
And the question becomes: does the team perceive Peter to be a capable enough person to truly understand and be able to apply these concepts, tools and techniques?
This is a key part of the credibility trap. It is one thing to point out a valuable skill to learn. It is a completely different issue convincing the team that he, Peter, is a sufficiently capable person to guide them. In fact, the team can agree a skill is needed but can disagree that Peter understands and is able to apply it.
Now let’s move on to layer #2.
To do that let’s for a moment assume Peter’s team thinks he understands the approach well and is able to apply it. In this case the first layer of the credibility trap is no longer an issue.
Layer #2 is about teaching and leading. While his team may think Peter is completely credible they may not think he is a good teacher and effective leader. They may be concerned that while the concepts are useful and he is capable of applying them, he may not be good at getting others to understand them and leading the implementation. So this is the second layer of the credibility trap. Can Peter teach this and can he effectively lead the roll out?
Now, to move on to layer #3, lets assume that layer #2 is not an issue.
Layer #3 of the credibility trap is whether Peter is perceived as someone who will see this effort through to completion.
From the team’s perspective they may be worried that Peter will start this new initiative, and if it becomes very difficult he may just quit, and leave the company or move to another part of the business.
So the 3rd layer of the credibility trap is whether Peter’s team thinks he will see it through.
Unfortunately, this 3rd layer issue is aggravated by an all too common scenario when consultants join industry or when consultants try to revamp a consulting firm. They come in all excited and start something because they think it will be easy. Soon it becomes tough and they leave the unit or the company entirely. And all of the people that relied on said consultant are left there to live with the consequences.
For example, Peter’s team may be concerned that he will start a project with bold promises to the project committee and will transfer to another part of the business 3-4 weeks into an 8-week project, leaving them all alone using a process and approach they do not completely understand.
So the credibility trap basically says that for your team to follow you they first have to think you are credible and chose to be dependent on you. Thereafter, they have to believe that you can teach them and lead the effort. And finally, they must trust you will not leave them high and dry when the going gets tough.
So if you are in Peter’s situation how should you approach this challenge?
Let’s look at a story of how Michael successfully neutralized the credibility trap. Michael, as you know, is one of the Partners at Firmsconsulting and when he left a major firm as a partner and went on to run a boutique consulting firm, even though he had enormous credibility it was very difficult for him to turnaround the boutique firm. So what did he do? Did he try to push through his methods? No.
Instead he started a pilot in just one practice in one office. He showed his team he could make it work and would stick through it. Once he had results, this drew the rest of the firm towards the direction he wanted to go.
The credibility trap is therefore not only about hard skills. You can be the best McKinsey consultant and still be a victim of the credibility trap. As you can see, even experienced partners who worked at great firms face the credibility trap. The reality is even if you worked at a major firm, even if you left at a senior level and had a stellar track record of success under your belt, you will still likely face at least level #3 of the credibility trap because it is about trust. And trust takes time to build.
To wrap-up remember the best way to rollout learnings from the Executive Program is to have a plan for all 3 layers of the credibility trap and find a pilot. This is a very clever strategy because if the pilot works and if you add enormous value, the team sees the results and they want to join your effort and create as much value as you did.
And if the pilot fails then just maybe you don’t understand the approach well enough yet to apply it properly. But at least you have failed in a contained setting and can improve. Remember that you will likely struggle in the pilot. Even the best consultants struggle in their very first studies so its smart to start on a small scale.
Thank you for joining us. If you enjoyed this conversation, I will be so appreciative if you go over to iTunes and share a quick review. It helps more people find us. Also if you don’t want to miss out on future episodes and other training, make sure you sign up for our email updates on Firmsconsulting.com.
I look forward to seeing you next time. Until then, go take action. Apply the concepts, techniques and tools you learn in the Executive Program on a small scale first. Get results. Then take on bigger challenges. This approach works. We know because our clients successfully use it to advance their careers.
“It is better to take many small steps in the right direction than to make a great leap forward only to stumble backward.” – Old Chinese Proverb
Begin somewhere; you cannot build a reputation on what you intend to do. -Liz Smith