Indren is a McKinsey BTO engagement manager. He holds an MBA from a top-ranked U.S. program and advanced engineering degrees from India. He graduated with distinction in all programs, including his executive-MBA. He spent 9 years at a services firm prior to completing his MBA and joining McKinsey BTO. He was a client of the case coaching program before joining the consultants program.
I joined a rapidly-expanding office and was put onto an engagement on my 3rd day. I was told this was very unusual, never happened and the firm would support me closely through the study. I was out of place from the first minute of my first day, and whatever support there was never seemed to help me!
Things were moving very fast to set me up with regards to laptop, general development, training etc. I never settled down and getting thrown into a study was the worst thing that could have happened. It was an associate, associate principal, partner and I on the case. I had no idea what was happening.
I was supporting the associate principal in completing a total-life-time cost study for a systems upgrade. I found the entire approach confusing and could not do basic things like figuring out how we would analyze the implications of shutting down the legacy system. I had done this before but the McKinsey BTO approach was driven by issues and not a general checklist, which was my preferred approach.
I ended giving the AP lots of things I thought was interesting but could never get my hands around the pulse of the study. It was deeply frustrating. The AP would ask me to complete the storyboard and that took me about 6 hours and it was all wrong. Having a lot of time when you have no clue what to do just leads to confusion and a mess.
I could not build any of the analyses and struggled at everything. I really have nothing bad to say about my previous firm, but none of the problem-solving toolkits I had used previously helped me at McKinsey BTO. Not a single one. It was that bad. It was like I was speaking Hindi in a town in Nebraska. No matter what I did, no one on my team seemed to know what to do with me.
I stared at my screen for about 30 minutes on the first night I had to develop a hypothesis. I was a manager but managing at McKinsey BTO meant getting stuck in the analyses and guiding others. The associate knew more than me and just by-passed my input since I could provide no useful advice. He was very nice about it and really had no choice since relying on me would lead to no progress.
That is why I applied to this program. I was not going anywhere by myself.
I was already on a case when I joined, so I had no strategy. I just dumped my frustrations on Michael and asked him for advice. My only objective was to not embarrass myself and come out of the engagement having completed the work I was given. I wanted to meet expectations.
At this point I was panicking and desperate about my career.
I don’t know how other experienced hires felt in similar situations but I am pretty sure both my performance and confidence were sunk. It was hard for me just to get up in the morning and mental fatigue led to physical fatigue.
Mental fatigue was causing me to lose weight, lose my appetite and lose my hair! The fear of failure was very real and a terrifying feeling.
The program helped me in some concrete ways both expected and unexpected.
• I was expecting general guidelines since I did not think ex-partners would have the time to get involved in all the nitty gritty details. The advice I received was to-the-clock timed to perfection. For the Monday after we had done my planning, I was given an objective of not falling behind. We built a “deficit-reduction” strategy to keep me from building up a backlog. I was given objectives for the day and guidelines and rules for prioritizing items. That was good and it worked.
• We spent much more time planning than anyone else on the team. While I was trying to prevent myself from falling behind, we would spend each night of that week building out a different part of my planning: timeline, milestones, issues, hypotheses, and analyses to test hypotheses. I like auto analogies and I think I went from looking at the review mirror to looking ahead to see what was possible and the route I would take. I was encouraged to keep the planning documents with me all the time and use it for any discussions.
• I was so desperate to add value that I was hunting around for opportunities to use my subject matter expertise even when it meant relegating my analyses work to the back-stage. Michael guided me away from this hurtful practice and switched my priorities. That was tempting and hard to do but I can see the slippery slope I was heading down. It is funny because I always thought the firm simply wanted me for my extensive IT experience.
• I isolated myself for the first two weeks because I was afraid people would realize just how little I knew. Michael was effective at forcing me to build better relationships and taught me a nice way to ask for help without creating the impression I was making no progress. This was very useful since it prevented me from falling further behind and breaking the isolation allowed me to see that others were more than happy to help me. I just needed to ask for help in the right way, since the people at McKinsey BTO are genuinely friendly and did whatever was required to help me.
An opportunity arose for me to showcase my IT technical skills. The AP was presenting to the CIO about a legacy system, which I knew well because I had helped write the software for the system and I had the brilliant idea of preparing a few slides on the system and going along with the AP to help with the discussion.
Michael thought this was a very bad idea, and to him, worrying, because I still did not understand how they would evaluate me. This cold-water suggestion was hard to hear but shocked me back to reality to understand the implications of my actions.
This is the way Michael explained it:
• McKinsey BTO knew that I knew IT. I didn’t need to prove it. Talking about the legacy system on a technical basis simply proves what they already know about me.
• I must resist the urge to hide in my technical comfort zone. Doing this may make me look good in the short term but does not improve my analytical skills for the long term. It will not provide opportunities for me to develop my weaker areas.
• Presenting to a client is dangerous since I did not have the analytical basis to support my conclusions. I would simply be drawing on old information I had acquired over time. This would reinforce bad behaviour and betrays the management consulting ethos of data-based conclusions.
I felt Michael was always keeping me focused on learning the skills McKinsey BTO wanted me to learn, while I was trying to use my technical skills. Good thing Michael won at the end.
My first engagement was average but would have been a disaster without Firmsconsulting. The second engagement was better and third engagement was even better. So I would like nothing changed in the program. It would be nice to have an online training facility for new consultants to brush up on these skills. I find that many of the things we discussed were useful and could have saved us time if I read them myself.
It would also be a good idea to have a “Succeeding as a Management Consultant” program tailored for those who join McKinsey BTO. I see programs for banking, public sector, energy and agriculture. BTO would be a popular choice for this.
Otherwise this is a great program and Firmsconsulting does an excellent job. The feedback, insights and commitments from the coaches are the best I have experienced.
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