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Lasting change: Our implementation consultants help make it happen

From the boardroom to the assembly line, our implementation consultants work shoulder-to-shoulder with clients, helping them stay on course.

– With the observation skills of an anthropologist, the intuition of a coach and deep industry expertise, our implementation consultants work side-by-side with our clients to make change happen. They take the time to establish the routines and rhythms that institutionalize new plans and processes. They build skills and help clients visualize and create the future. In this post, three of our Implementation colleagues reflect on what inspires them about the work they do and the relationships they develop.

From the boardroom to the shop floor, assembly line, or operating room, change at work is hard and everyone at all levels of an organization needs to get on board to make a course change successful. This is what McKinsey Implementation is all about.

Mandy van de Velde, an implementation coach based in Amsterdam, describes how a typical day reflects that purpose. On a project at a hospital, “I scrubbed in with the operating-room cleaners to understand how they did their job, studying the process of how the rooms would be sterilized and set up for the next procedure. Then, later the same day, I was meeting the hospital management for a coaching session in a boardroom. Those sorts of days—going from wildly different groups in a company—are my favorite.”

Implementation consultants are part of McKinsey client teams from day one. Present during the diagnostic and recommendation phase of projects, they continue to work alongside with clients to execute the implementation phase, staying on site for 12 months or as long as is needed. They build an organization’s leadership, implementation, and functional capabilities to achieve long-term results by working side-by-side with people at every level of a client’s organization.

I scrubbed in with the operating-room cleaners to understand how they did their job, studying the process of how the rooms would be sterilized and set up for the next procedure.

Created in 2010, McKinsey Implementation now has more than 800 dedicated consultants at 18 hubs across the globe. Implementation consultants often join McKinsey with significant working experience in an industry—and they include experts in mining, marketing, consumer products, pulp and paper, and healthcare, to name a few.

“My pre-McKinsey experience helps me tremendously in practically all the projects that I work on,” explains Katalin Miskolci, a senior implementation leader based in Budapest. A former computer engineer at Nokia, she also led a shared-service center in eastern Europe for IBM before joining the firm. She shepherded the center through years of rapid growth, from being its first employee to leading over a thousand people; expanding the scope of services, driving continuous improvement, end-to-end functional integrations, and automation programs. “It’s the story that you bring. I can easily see myself in my clients’ shoes, because I have been there myself. I think they sense this about me.”

Blake Lindsay, a senior implementation leader based in Denver, was an officer aboard a US Navy aircraft carrier before joining the firm. The skills instilled in him in the military, including team work and the ability to stay calm under pressure, directly translated to his work as an implementation consultant. “Coaching has taken many forms during my projects. When I started, I coached frontline supervisors to meet performance targets and to find the new muscles you have to flex in order to achieve these new goals, whether it’s learning how to be more collaborative or improving productivity or adapting to new technologies,” he explained. “It’s a matter of focusing on new skills.”

Implementation consultants’ observations are part of determining this focus. Like an anthropologist, a consultant studies whatever form the work happens to take, such as processes on the shop floor, down to the smallest details. As Mandy explains, “we don’t try to patrol workers, we try to understand how they are working and coach them on how they can do it more efficiently.”

I can easily see myself in my clients’ shoes, because I have been there myself. I think they sense this about me.

Implementation consultants also love the long engagement. They are with clients for months, sometimes years, working in close quarters and developing close bonds with them. “It’s important to me to stay in touch even after the McKinsey part of the effort is done. Recently, after we completed a transformation project, I was invited to a celebration of the one-year anniversary of their launch. It was gratifying for me to see that they have continued along the journey so successfully,” recounted Katalin.

Our implementation colleagues stand shoulder-to-shoulder with their clients to make sure they stay on course, even if that course shifts. Blake remembers a long engagement with a large manufacturing client during a market crash which forced them to adapt their transformation plan quickly. “We now had to help the client push through a difficult time while at the same time keeping the momentum for our original plan. We had to make sure that they felt like they owned the solution and sustained the changes they set out for themselves. Long story short, it was a challenging situation, but by working together, we helped our client to adapt the plan and create a sustainable solution to continue the transformation.”

In every project, there’s apprehension about change. “We train our clients to expect that,” says Mandy. When clients learn a new skill or process, “there’s a predictable emotional curve, where at first they are all the way at the bottom of the curve, not really trusting the change or thinking, 'okay, well, it's new so let's see what happens.’” With our support, they go up in the curve because they’re getting the hang of it. But over time, there are more things to change, more re-skilling that needs to happen, and “they usually go down again because now they feel like too much is changing or 'I don’t know how to change or maybe I'm not doing it the right way.' And then a week or two weeks later when they have gone through that low curve they can go up again when they really see that things are sticking.”

The emotional curve affects everyone, from frontline workers up to the CEO. There’s no magic to moving up the curve. But the process of overcoming the challenges and insecurities that arise is an opportunity to build confidence and skills—and it’s easier if you have an implementation expert at your side.