The Compelling Communicator: An interview with McKinsey’s Julie Goran

This interview is part of a series called “The Compelling Communicator,” which is devoted to hearing from McKinsey leaders about the latest trends, insights, and thinking in strategic and change communications. Following are lightly-edited excerpts from Julie’s interview with James Naylor, a knowledge expert in McKinsey’s London office.

James Naylor: How has your journey been at McKinsey, and what’s your current role?

Julie Goran: I first joined McKinsey in 2000 as a business analyst; that’s our graduate entry role. Apart from a brief break when I was at law school, I’ve been here ever since. Today, I’m a partner in our New York office, focusing on organizational design, talent, and change. I’m also one of the leaders of our People & Organizational Performance and Insurance Practices, and in particular, I’m responsible for our digital organization work. It’s a privilege to serve a very wide range of clients on these topics and partner with them to drive sustainable and inclusive growth.

James Naylor: How did you first get involved in organizational design and change work? What about it piqued your interest?

Julie Goran: Earlier in my career at McKinsey, I was mostly working in our Financial Institutions Practice, so that’s where I first started doing organization work. There was one project in particular where we redid the top team organization model for a large company that had just had its entire strategy turned around due to regulation. It meant they had to shift both their business and their organization. We worked closely with the CEO to redesign his organization, and then came the day when he simply flipped the switch and implemented the new structure. I was really floored by the speed and the impact we had together. Since then, I’ve found a number of ways to support clients on organization work while also becoming more of a broad-based counselor to my clients.

James Naylor: What role do you believe communication plays in making change happen?

Julie Goran: There is a ton of research highlighting the importance of communication and change management. After all, organizations are just groups of individuals, and for any community to be successful, everyone needs to understand and believe in what they’re working toward, and to know what their role is in making that happen. Communication is the foundation for achieving this goal. And in an odd way, that makes it so fundamental that it can be overlooked. But the difference between good and bad communication can’t be overstated. Think about having a clear and compelling narrative that’s shared in a coherent and consistent way. It encourages dialogue and engagement, and it’s a source of motivation in its own right. And now think about not having that!

James Naylor: How have you brought different communication capabilities and approaches to your clients?

Julie Goran: It’s always a team sport. I often work together with client leaders and our own communications experts to articulate that compelling change story—making sense of where people are, where they want to go, and how they’re going to get there. We know how important it is to get this right. Our own research shows that transformations are almost six times as likely to be successful where the CEO communicates a compelling, high-level change story, and more than six times likelier to succeed when senior leaders share consistent and complementary messages about the change effort across their organizations. That’s an activity, not a text. We work hard to strengthen our clients’ capabilities and skills here for the long term because that’s our best chance of ensuring enduring impact.

James Naylor: We have a great development culture at McKinsey. Given that, what would you say to aspiring communications professionals?

Julie Goran: First, I would say congratulations on choosing such a high-impact area of specialism! Second, I would recommend getting exposure to as many different contexts, audiences, and communication styles as possible to expand your range. Over my career, I’ve been lucky enough to work with some really stellar communicators, all of whom had their own authentic approach. We all have communication-related strengths, but we can also have blind spots and, in my experience, the best way to make these blind spots visible so we can then address them, is to go outside our comfort zone and broaden our experience horizons.

And third, never stop being an advocate for your audience. Communications professionals are often the bridge between the person who wants to say something and the people they want to listen. People with something to say are naturally focused on their message and their objectives. It is your job to bring the audience to life—representing their perspectives and concerns—to make the communication as effective and powerful as possible.