Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Asking Your McKinsey Boss for Help - Bring Solutions, Not Just Problems

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In a previous post, I provided three ways to keep your McKinsey boss happy.  In this post, I'll explain a fourth, equally important way to stay in the good graces of your McKinsey boss:  When you're struggling with something and need help from your McKinsey boss, make sure you bring solutions, not just problems

Everybody needs help

Even the best consultants run into problems that require advice, assistance, or problem solving from their McKinsey boss.  Any good McKinsey leader knows that their teams need the benefit of their support, knowledge, and experience.  One of their responsibilities is to make sure you are successful, but you should be mindful about how you approach the situation.

Bring something to the table - potential solutions

Because your McKinsey boss is responsible for the success of the team, your problems become their problems.  Although your McKinsey boss should be willing to help you out, your approach can have a tremendous impact on how you are perceived.  As discussed previously, your McKinsey boss is likely to be very busy and you can keep him/her happy by making their job easier

If you have a question or problem that requires help, you should make yourself part of the solution.  This can be done by thinking through the issue first and going in with one or more potential straw man solutions.  You straw man answers might not be perfect, but will start the conversation off on the right foot - rather than a needy, squeaky wheel that needs attention and answers, you might be seen as a proactive, self-sufficient, problem solver who wants a thought partner to assess options.

Why this approach is better for everyone...

1.  Providing options makes it easier for your McKinsey boss to respond

If you go to your boss with nothing but a problem, he/she has to put a lot of thought toward identifying solutions from an entire universe of possibilities.  By providing some options to consider, you give your McKinsey boss something to react to.  It's the difference between a multiple choice and fill-in-the-blank test.

2.  It shows you're not just passing the buck

Consider how each of the following consultants might be viewed by their McKinsey boss.
  • Consultant A - "I can't figure out what companies to benchmark for our client.  What should I do?"
  • Consultant B - "I'm having a hard time figuring out what companies to benchmark.  So far I've asked several clients who they consider to be their top competitors.  I've also read multiple reports by industry analysts.  The answers have been all over the place so I've also scheduled calls with some Firm experts on the industry.  Is there anything else I should be considering?"
Consultant A is basically asking their boss to do their work for them.  Consultant A is taking something off his/her own plate and dumping it on the plate of their boss.  To help Consultant A, the McKinsey boss is going to have to start from scratch and do the thinking for both of them.  Consultant A is going to come across as lazy and/or less competent.

Consultant B has taken ownership and accountability for the situation.  It's clear that Consultant B has given the issue plenty of thought, exercised significant effort, and already come up with some good approaches.  At this point, all the McKinsey boss has to do is validate the work that's already been done and, possibly, contribute an additional idea or two.  Consultant B is going to come across as more proactive, diligent, and thorough.

Which perceptions would you rather convey?

3.  You might solve the problem yourself

By the time you think through potential solutions to present alongside your problem, you might find that you've already figured out the answer.

You still might want to run it by your McKinsey boss for confirmation, but that's a much easier conversation for both of you.  Would you rather be asking "what should I do?" or "I'm planning to do X, does that sound right to you?"  The former is something Consultant A would ask, the latter is how Consultant B succeeds.