McKinsey Classics

Timeless insights—and why they’re as relevant as ever

Not all systems and data are created equal

– Some systems and data are more important than others. Some are more exposed to risk, and some are more likely to be targeted by criminals.

Dispelling the mystery of zero-based budgets

– Back in 2014, many companies found that their revenues were growing more slowly than their sales, general, and administrative (SG&A) costs were. Controlling those costs became essential. At such times, executives often think they have to make large, arbitrary budget cuts, no matter how imprudent or unsustainable. But a McKinsey team argued that companies had a better choice: zero-based budgeting (ZBB).

How a great customer experience creates value

– Executives understand that successful customer-centric strategies create satisfied customers, engaged employees, greater loyalty, and a lower cost to serve.

How to be a better leader

– To make 2023 more fulfilling, read our 2016 classic “Want to be a better leader? Observe more and react less.”

Digitizing the risk function

– Read our classic 2017 article “Digital risk: Transforming risk management for the 2020s,” which focuses on the banking industry but has many lessons for every kind of business.

The real meaning of shareholder value

– Creating shareholder value doesn’t mean maximizing short-term profits. Read “The real business of business” and the other articles in the 20th-anniversary edition of McKinsey on Finance.

Getting beyond bureaucracy in human resources

– There’s an antidote to questionnaire overload and multipage templates: understanding their strategic purpose. Read our classic 2015 article “Getting beyond bureaucracy in human resources.”

Keeping customers happy in hard times

– Learn what’s really important to consumers. Read our classic 2008 article “Maintaining the customer experience.”

How the best labs manage talent

– Of the practices that influence an organization’s productivity, talent management is often the one most in need of improvement. Read our 2011 classic “How the best labs manage talent.”

The risk function of the future

– Banks exist to lend, and every lending decision is a risk decision. That’s why the basic trends and responses in bank risk can reveal the future of the risk function throughout big business. In 2016, McKinsey published an article explaining these trends and their impact. It’s well worth reading today.

A more productive environment for everyone

– Let’s say you’re facing a “difficult conversation”—for example, informing a colleague that you’ll have to pull out of an important meeting the two of you have been planning for weeks. You start by baldly stating that you can’t attend it. Behavioral research shows that the other person’s brain then goes on defense, diverting scarce mental energy by launching an automatic “snap, sulk, or skulk” mode. Emotionally sophisticated neural machinery shuts down, and the quality of work declines.

Four principles of effective storytelling on social media

– Scott Harrison was a successful nightclub and fashion promoter in New York, but he felt spiritually bankrupt. Leaving his business behind, he decided to serve as a photojournalist on a floating hospital that provided free medical care in poor countries. Such stories help build organizations and lead them through times of change. To learn the four principles that make these narratives effective, read our 2011 classic “The power of storytelling: What nonprofits can teach the private sector about social media.”

The future of global economic growth

– In 2014, to celebrate McKinsey Quarterly’s 50th anniversary, the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) examined the future prospects for economic growth throughout the world. Read “A productivity perspective on the future of growth.”

How to make scenario planning more effective

– McKinsey has been fascinated for years by the cognitive biases that explain how people make economic decisions, such as investments. Learn how to control them: read “Overcoming obstacles to effective scenario planning.”

Having difficulty keeping your employees?

– The job market will probably continue to be a challenge for employers in the new year, which means that your workplace—whether remote or in-person—needs to be as comfortable, collaborative, and welcoming as possible if you are to retain workers. Read our 2007 classic “Building the civilized workplace.”

The soft side of growth

– Most companies can anticipate the strategic side of growth—where, when, and how it happens—but many underestimate its organizational side. Read our 2011 classic article ‘Preparing your organization for growth.’

How companies use agile to transform their data infrastructure and processes

– In the search for ways to accelerate data programs, some advanced companies have drawn on the agile techniques originally used to develop software.

Managing the people side of risk

– McKinsey’s research and experience have found not only that the companies with the strongest risk cultures have specific traits but also that there are effective ways to strengthen them. Read the 2015 classic ‘Managing the people side of risk.’

What kind of strategist does your company need?

– Different kinds of companies need different kinds of chief strategy officers. To learn what kind your company needs, read ‘Rethinking the role of the strategist.’

Teamwork at the top

– Better teams develop better strategies, implement them more successfully, and inspire confidence among stakeholders. To learn how your top team can improve its performance, not just its strategies, read our 2001 classic ‘Teamwork at the top.’

Data analytics for top teams

– To learn how top teams can manage analytics, read our 2016 classic ‘Making data analytics work for you—instead of the other way around.’

The four global trends

– Four powerful forces are transforming the world: urbanization in developing economies, faster technological change, aging, and a new kind of globalization. Learn about them in our 2015 book excerpt ‘The four global forces breaking all the trends.’