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The 2 Cs of management excellence 

What is good management? For years at McKinsey, we have applied science and measurement to that question.

What is good management? For years at McKinsey, we have applied science and measurement to that question. Our research has found significant approaches to achieve superior management that spark notable organizational performance and health. They underscore the importance of consistency and coherence, the top characteristics of “good management” in my book.

It is tempting to look at an article on the cover of Businessweek or Fortune touting the latest fad and declare, “I want that.” However, that can be a big mistake – not because the ideas don’t have substance, but because they may not be consistent and coherent with the other elements of your organization’s management “recipe.”

As leadership authority John C. Maxwell opines, “If your people know what they can expect from you, they will continue to look to you for leadership.”

Here are five reasons why consistency and coherence prove essential:

  1. They enable screening for and attracting people who like/are good at/will thrive in your system. In several industries that I work closely, it is well known that you can’t take a manager from Company X and put him or her in Company Y. They likely follow different recipes and will struggle if transplanted into a different culture. The clearer you can be about this, the better you will be at helping people both develop and self-select in and out of your organization.
  2. They send a predictable message to others, including clients and customers who usually prefer normalcy from leaders. Think about the experience of Starbucks’ regulars. Most prefer a typically dependable response to ordering java.
  3. They avoid producing unease that unpredictable management behavior often causes. Inconsistency breeds disaffection and alienation – and it can damage trust that others have in your leadership.
  4. They help establish organizational clarity and generate productivity among employees who favor a well-defined management style. We often see a disconnect emerge when an organization doesn’t have a mutual understanding of a leader’s management style, mood, behavior and decision-making.
  5. They enable measurement of the effectiveness of your organizational strategies, initiatives and choices – from capital investment and R&D to talent selection and financial and sustainability goals. In that regard, consistency also helps hold you accountable for delivering on those objectives.

Of course, not all “recipes” are created equal. Leaders abound whose management philosophies stifle rather than stimulate progress. In its March 30, 2016, issue, Fortune editors identified whom they considered to be the world’s “19 most disappointing leaders.” In many of these cases, a rigid command-and-control style (which is not one of the four successful recipes we see) or a significantly inconsistent management approach proved the biggest factor in their selection.

Focus instead on developing a conscious management philosophy that can be applied across an organization. Then apply it as consistently as possible.

Perceptive and progressive leadership requires consistency and coherence. And while consistency is a fundamentally conservative characteristic, stay tuned for what I think is the next most important quality of good management. It’s anything but conventional!

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