McKinsey Academy celebrates reaching over one million participants

Capability building programs that teach new skills must focus on changing underlying mindsets to drive behavior change. This was the approach that powered the firm’s launch of McKinsey Academy in 2014, aiming to make fundamental improvements in employees’ skills and capabilities and catalyze organizational changes and growth.

Ten years later, McKinsey Academy has reached over one million people at 3,000 companies in 80 countries.

The programming changes working mindsets and behaviors, develops leadership, management, and enterprise-wide transformation skills, and builds functional capabilities. Participants come from all industries and sectors, including those joining pro bono from nonprofits and through firm-run, no-cost skill-building initiatives, such as Connected Leaders Academy.

Marc Metakis, a partner in New York City, was part of the team that initially conceived and launched McKinsey Academy. He shares how it started, its secret sauce, and what’s ahead.

How did McKinsey Academy begin?

Marc Metakis headshot
Marc Metakis
Marc Metakis headshot

In 2013, massive open online courses were everywhere, and we saw the powerful desire people had to keep building their skills. The firm’s capability building offerings were mostly focused on in-person workshops for senior leaders. How could we scale this to entire organizations? I helped lead a team to look at what we could build for clients. We talked to a lot of firm alumni and asked, “What would be most valuable for you and your organization? What do you need that you’re not getting?”

We started with around 100 ideas and whittled them down to four core areas: strategy, communications, problem solving, and team management. We built up a lot of buy-in and excitement in the firm and launched to clients in 2014.

How were courses initially set up and how did they evolve?

We wanted to offer something unique to clients, beyond simple digital modules. We focused on multi-modal delivery, incorporating a blended approach with a mix of in-person workshops, digital modules, individual and group projects, simulations, and integrated impact measurement for skills development and behavior change.

We leveraged our McKinsey IP, focusing on areas where we are truly distinctive, and combined that with the latest science on adult learning and behavioral science. Our emphasis on the social learning aspect really differentiated us from many of the other offerings in the market. Of course, when COVID-19 happened, we again transformed the programs to be fully remote and guided companies on moving their operations online.

Over time we’ve actively evolved the portfolio from this core set of McKinsey tools, such as the McKinsey Management Program to really focus on the mindsets, behaviors, and skills that our clients need. So, in addition to our signature offerings addressing key leadership and execution essentials, such as Ability to Execute, we’ve built out a series of functional programs supporting digital and analytics; operations; and growth, marketing, and sales.

What is our approach to fostering behavior change?

Watching a McKinsey Academy course on a laptop
Watching a McKinsey Academy course on a laptop

When employees feel valued and special, they are more open to change. They need to see that the company is investing in them—and that starts with the very first communication employees receive. We make sure to engage senior leaders to send this message and to role model the changes where possible.

We also help participants understand what’s in it for them and can gather peer feedback on their observed behaviors pre- and post-program and compare the change to quantify the impact the programs are having.

What was a moment where the impact of the program resonated with you?

Our impact goes beyond individual capabilities, but to culture and mindset shifts that an individual takes to everyone they work with.

Marc Metakis, partner and McKinsey Academy leader

Our Ability to Execute Essentials program often changes the way an organization speaks and works. One financial services executive told me of seeing this in action, with employees talking in the hallways about prioritizing their “big rocks,” or large tasks, and about conducting pre-mortems to de-risk projects. The investment in employees also doesn’t go unnoticed: participants at one client saw a 14 percent higher retention rate compared to their colleagues.

Our impact goes beyond individual capabilities, but to culture and mindset shifts that an individual takes to everyone they work with. Multiply a million learners rippling this out to people in their lives—that’s really the scale of impact.

What’s something you’re excited about for the future of McKinsey Academy?

We’re diagnosing needs within companies more surgically now so we can take a more modular, customized approach. We have around 20 signature offerings that are end-to-end capability building journeys, but what are the five or six skills that are most important for a specific client? Now we’re building skills-based diagnostics and can package the most relevant skills together very quickly and easily in a way that still has a cohesive narrative arc for program participants.

Of course, generative AI is a foundational pivot. We’re working with our firm’s generative AI experts on integrating a “coach” that will provide real-time feedback in our problem-solving course to help push participants’ thinking on their problem statements, and a personal performance support co-pilot integrated directly into day-to-day flows of work. Imagine, for example, receiving a notification to remind you to share a clear and structured agenda in advance of your next meeting. As we continue to apply the science of adult learning with the latest technological innovations, our work has shown that the potential for generative AI is huge and very exciting.

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