Managing Internal Communications
message (whether in the form of voice mail, e-mail, or memo) and
the meeting. I’ll suggest some tips for successful messages in the
next section. Right now, let’s concentrate on meetings.
Meetings form the glue that holds your team together. Team
meetings allow excellent information flow, in all directions, and
provide a certain amount of social bonding. They help remind
those present that they are part of a team. Suzanne Tosini, a former
McKinsey EM and now a senior manager at Freddie Mac, noted
that one of the keys to a successful meeting is making sure every
one attends. To ensure that people do show up, make team meet
ings a regular item on everybody’s schedule. If you have nothing
to discuss, then cancel the meeting (as far in advance as possible);
your teammates can always find a use for the extra 45 minutes.
Suzanne’s other two keys for a successful meeting are an
agenda and a leader. Keep the number of items on your agenda to
the minimum needed to make sure everyone is up to date with
important events, issues, and problems. If something can be put on
hold for another time, it probably should. If you are the leader,
make sure you cover your agenda as briskly as possible: Frequent
meetings are good, unnecessarily long ones are not.
One other method of internal communication is in a class by
itself: learning by walking around. Some of the most valuable con
versations in my experience resulted from random encounters—in
the corridors, at the water cooler, on the way to lunch, at the Firm,
or at the client. You can gain a lot just by wandering around and
talking to people, and they can learn a lot from you. Never under
estimate the value of the random fact.
However you choose to communicate with your team, make
sure that you do so frequently and openly. You will boost your
team’s efficiency and morale, as well as your boss’s peace of mind.
Turn on the lights and clear out the manure!
THE THREE KEYS TO AN EFFECTIVE MESSAGE
A good business message has three attributes: brevity, thor
oughness and structure. Include all three in every voice mail,
e-mail or memo you send and you’ll get your message across.
A message, whether it’s an e-mail, a voice mail, a memo, or a
sticky note covered in cramped handwriting, is a presentation in
miniature—a means of conveying information to an audience. As
such, an effective message shares the same properties as an effec
tive presentation: It is brief, covering only the points the audience
needs to know; it is thorough, covering all the points the audi
ence needs to know; and it has a structure that conveys those
points clearly to its audience.
1. Brevity. Brevity, or rather the lack of it, is much more of a
problem in spoken than written communications. Many business
people can write concise memos, but how many can record a con
cise voice mail? To join that select group, think before you speak
(or write). Whittle down your message to the three or four points
that the audience needs to know. If necessary, write these things
down on paper. Some McKinsey-ites write the entire message out
like a script before sending a voice mail to their ED or DCS. I think
that’s going a bit too far—just the bullet points will do.
2. Thoroughness. Make sure your message contains everything
your audience needs to know. You are not trying to keep your audi
ence in suspense. Don’t just tell your boss, “I’m doing X, Y, and Z.
Call me if you have any questions.” Tell her not only what you are
doing, but what the issues are and what your thoughts are on them.
Don’t just check in; it’s a waste of your boss’s time (and yours). If
you don’t have anything useful to say, wait until you do.
Managing Internal Communications
3. Structure. To be readily understood, a message must fol
low a structure, and that structure must be readily apparent to the
audience. Even if you’re just writing a one-page e-mail or leaving
a 30-second voice message, a simple structure will help your mes
sage get through. It can be as basic as this:
We have three problems. In order of increasing impor
tance, they are:
1. Our widgets are too expensive.
2. Our sales force is incompetent.
3. Our widget factory was just destroyed in a freak
Sometimes McKinsey-ites can take structuring their messages a
bit too far. One EM in the New York office was reputed to put her
shopping lists in Firm format. Another left affectionate messages on
his wife’s answering machine—following the McKinsey structure.
Although you needn’t follow the extreme examples of these
overzealous McKinsey-ites, in your business communications you
would do well to remember the three keys to effective messaging.
ALWAYS LOOK OVER YOUR SHOULDER
You cannot be an effective consultant if you don’t maintain
confidentiality. Know when you can talk and when you can’t.
Be just a bit paranoid.
During my first week at McKinsey, I went through a short orien
tation course along with the rest of my Firm “classmates.” Dur
ing a seminar on confidentiality, the EM leading the discussion
mentioned that when he stayed over at his girlfriend’s apartment,
he kept his briefcase locked. At the time, that struck me as a bit
extreme. After all, if you can’t trust your girlfriend, whom can you
trust? (OK, I was young and naïve at the time.) It was only after I
had been at the Firm a bit longer that I realized quite how seriously
McKinsey takes confidentiality.
McKinsey’s corporate culture continually reinforces confiden
tiality. We always kept it in the back of our minds. If we were on
a plane, we didn’t take client information out of our briefcases and
work on it; we never knew who might be sitting next to us—a
competitor, a journalist, maybe even someone from your client. If
we needed those three hours to work, it was our tough luck.
We never mentioned our clients by name outside the office,
and sometimes not even at the Firm. McKinsey often works for
more than one client in an industry, so some information had to
be kept even from fellow consultants. We often used code words
when discussing our clients, though not always successfully. One
EM from Germany recalled coming home to find a note from his
girlfriend (who worked for a competing consulting firm) saying
that the dinner for Code A (pronounced, in German, as “code
ah”) would take place at a fancy Munich restaurant. In fact, the
name of the client company was Coda; the caller had used the
client’s real name, although luckily he had been misunderstood.
The EM was not pleased.
You may not need to maintain confidentiality while working
on your business problem—then again, maybe you do. Ask your
self a few simple questions: What would happen if you were sitting
on an airplane and one of your competitors saw what you were
working on? How about someone from your company who wasn’t
involved in the project? How about your boss?
If you’re working on something sensitive, take a few basic pre
cautions. Don’t leave important papers lying around. Lock up your
Managing Internal Communications
desk and file cabinets before you leave for the night. Don’t talk
about the specifics of your work outside your team. (You can tell
your significant other only if he or she doesn’t pose a security risk.)
Don’t take out sensitive material in public—sensitive means any
thing that a competitor or journalist might find interesting. Be
mindful of what you say over the phone, and be extra careful when
sending faxes, e-mail, and voice messages: They can very easily end
up in the wrong hands.
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WORKING WITH CLIENTS
ABOUT WORKING WITH CLIENT TEAMS
It goes without saying that without clients there would be no
McKinsey. They pay the (enormous) bills that keep the Firm
going. It is not, therefore, surprising that McKinsey-ites are
always told to put the client first. Hamish McDermott
remarked that there was one true hierarchy at McKinsey:
client, firm, you (in descending order).
In this chapter, we will cover the two different aspects of
working with clients the McKinsey way. We will start with
techniques to get the most out of a client team, the people
from the client organization who work with McKinsey to
reach a solution; we’ll also look at ways to keep a client
team from doing more harm than good. We will then move
on to managing the client—in McKinsey’s case, the senior
people at the client organization who had called in the Firm
to begin with. You will learn how to keep your clients
engaged and supportive of your efforts and also how to
make sure your solution actually gets implemented rather
than gathering dust on a high shelf.
For some readers, the issue of client teams may seem
remote. After all, if you are not a consultant, when will you
actually have to deal with client teams? The answer is
sooner than you might think. As a problem solver in a large
organization, you may find yourself working with a team
from, say, another business unit. Or you may be working
on a joint venture with a team from an entirely different
organization. In that case, you will, I hope, find the
discussion of client teams as useful as the discussion of
managing your client.
Working with Clients
KEEP THE CLIENT TEAM ON YOUR SIDE
When you’re working with a client team, you and the team
have to work together or you won’t work at all. Make sure
that members of the client team understand why their efforts
are important to you and beneficial for them.
The first thing to do when working with a client team is get them
on your side. Make sure that they want to help you. At McKinsey,
we learned that the key to keeping the client teams on our side was
to turn their goals into our goals. They have to remember that if
their mission fails, the McKinsey mission fails and if the McKinsey
mission fails, their mission fails.
Members of the client team must also realize that working with
McKinsey will be a positive experience for them. They must be made
to understand that, at a minimum, they’ll learn things that they
would never otherwise know and that will help them in their careers.
They’ll also have a chance to make real change happen in their orga-
nization—a rare experience in most people’s working lives.
For example, when I was working on a reorganization project
for a Wall Street broker, my team worked with a client team made
up of people from the IT department. One particular member of
the client team, whom I’ll call Morty, was a mainframe computer
programmer, and looked the part. He stood about five and a half
feet tall, in his business shoes, wore thick glasses and a suit that
never quite fit; he lived with his parents in Brooklyn. Morty didn’t
really want to be on the client team; he had far too much “real”
work to do.
Then I took Morty with me on a few interviews. He got to
meet senior people in his organization: bankers, brokers and
traders—the people at the front end of the business. He got to
ask them questions and find out what they thought his depart
ment was supposed to be doing. Morty learned how to apply his
own skills to solve problems he would not usually see in his day-
to-day work. He also became noticeably more confident and out
spoken during meetings as the study progressed. Working with
McKinsey was an eye-opener for Morty, and he loved it (espe
cially since he didn’t have to write the interview notes; that job
was left to me).
I’ll close this section with a final note on the subject, and an
apparent contradiction of something I wrote earlier (see “A Little
Team Bonding Goes a Long Way” in Chapter 5). Team-bonding
activities really add value when working with client teams. Since
the client team is not bound by the same shared experiences as the
McKinsey team, a little social interaction between the two can make
working together a lot easier. A trip to the ballpark or dinner at a
good restaurant (when people put away their “office faces”) can help
the members of each team realize that the others are real people too.
HOW TO DEAL WITH “LIABILITY” CLIENT
You may find that not everyone on the client team has the
same abilities or goals as you do. Get “liability” members off
the client team if you can; otherwise, work around them.
There are two kinds of “liability” members on a client team: the
merely useless and the actively hostile. Ideally, neither type is on
your team. If your career is typical, you’ll probably get both.
Documents you may be interested
Documents you may be interested