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Aaron De Smet

Senior Partner, New Jersey
Delivers growth, innovation, and organizational agility and is an expert on culture change, leadership development, team effectiveness, capability building, and transformation

About Aaron

Aaron counsels leadership teams as they transform their organizations to improve performance, organizational health, speed, and agility. He is also an expert on organizational design, corporate culture, leadership development, team effectiveness, capability building, and transformational change.

Much of Aaron’s work focuses on helping large distributed organizations to achieve growth, innovation, productivity, and organizational agility. He serves clients across several industries, including agriculture, biotechnology, chemicals, energy, financial services, and healthcare.

Examples of Aaron’s recent client work include the following:

  • helping a Fortune 50 healthcare company to improve its organizational health and agility, including culture change, governance, and decision making, as well as upskilling leadership capabilities, as part of a new operating model and restructuring plan to drive significant growth in existing and new segments
  • simplifying and flattening the organizational structure of a large financial-services institution to improve its productivity, efficiency, decision making, and employee engagement
  • developing agile processes for a product-line organization at a global chemical company— overhauling the structure and business processes, upgrading talent and capabilities, and streamlining decision making and governance—which delivered lower costs and double-digit revenue growth
  • helping to architect and execute a major operational and cultural transformation in a global manufacturing organization to improve its operational performance (reliability, costs, and quality) significantly
  • turning around the performance and culture of a petrochemical-manufacturing plant on the verge of being shut down
  • leading a cross-functional team of executives at a large pharmaceutical and consumer health-products company to build strategic resilience into critical operations

Aaron, who writes frequently about organizational topics, has published many articles in McKinsey Quarterly and elsewhere. He is a member of the master faculty of the Change Leaders Forum and of the Organizational Agility Forum, which he helped establish. He has also led McKinsey’s thinking on organizational health and was on the teams that developed the Organizational Health Index (OHI), OrgLab, and Influencer.

Before joining McKinsey, Aaron worked at several other consultancies, as an independent consultant, and served as a research associate at the Institute for Behavior Resources. He has a PhD in social and organizational psychology from Columbia University, where he specialized in organizational dynamics, culture, human-resource management, leadership effectiveness, and strategic change.


Boards and decision making,” McKinsey & Company, April 2021

To unlock better decision making, plan better meetings,” McKinsey & Company, November 2020

Decision making in your organization: Cutting through the clutter,” McKinsey Quarterly, January 2018

Reorganization rules that work,” McKinsey & Company, November 2016

Going from fragile to agile,” McKinsey & Company, December 2015

Published work

‘Great Attrition’ or ‘Great Attraction’? The choice is yours,” McKinsey Quarterly, September 2021

Organizing for sustainability success: Where, and how, leaders can start,” McKinsey & Company, August 2021

Four ways communications can engage employees on the return to workplace journey,” blog entry, McKinsey & Company, July 2021

Shattering the status quo: A conversation with Haier’s Zhang Ruimin,” McKinsey Quarterly, July 2021

It’s time for leaders to get real about hybrid,” McKinsey Quarterly, July 2021

Return as a muscle: How lessons from COVID-19 can shape a robust operating model for hybrid and beyond,” McKinsey & Company, July 2021

Inclusive workplaces focus on management practices that matter, not fluff,” blog entry, McKinsey & Company, June 2021

Promoting psychological safety starts with developing leaders,” blog entry, McKinsey & Company, May 2021

What executives are saying about the future of hybrid work,” McKinsey & Company, May 2021

Building workforce skills at scale to thrive during—and after—the COVID-19 crisis,” McKinsey & Company, April 2021

What employees are saying about the future of remote work,” McKinsey & Company, April 2021

How to reenergize your organization to overcome pandemic fatigue,” blog entry, McKinsey & Company, March 2021

The nine traits of future-ready companies,” McKinsey & Company, February 2021

Psychological safety and the critical role of leadership development,” McKinsey & Company, February 2021

Organizing for the future: Nine keys to becoming a future-ready company,” McKinsey & Company, January 2021

From remote work to organizational health: 5 ways to help teams during uncertain times,” blog entry, McKinsey & Company, December 2020

Reenergizing an exhausted organization: A conversation with Admiral John Richardson,” McKinsey Quarterly, December 2020

Overcoming pandemic fatigue: How to reenergize organizations for the long run,” McKinsey & Company, November 2020

Zoning in and out of stress,” blog entry, McKinsey & Company, November 2020

Reimagining how life sciences work will be done in the next normal,” McKinsey & Company, October 2020

Reskilling in the age of COVID: There’s no better time than the present,” blog entry, McKinsey & Company, October 2020

Unleashing sustainable speed in a post-COVID world: Reshape talent,” blog entry, McKinsey & Company, September 2020

What 800 executives envision for the postpandemic workforce,” McKinsey Global Institute, September 2020

Your organization is grieving—here’s how you can help,” McKinsey Quarterly, September 2020

For smarter decisions, empower your employees,” McKinsey & Company, September 2020

Unleashing sustainable speed in a post-COVID world: Rethink ways of working,” blog entry, McKinsey & Company, September 2020

The need for speed in the post-COVID-19 era—and how to achieve it,” McKinsey & Company, September 2020

Four considerations for helix success beyond structure (part three),” blog entry, McKinsey & Company, August 2020

What does a helix reorganization look like? (part two),” blog entry, McKinsey & Company, August 2020

Become flexible and speed up with a helix model (part one),” blog entry, McKinsey & Company, July 2020

Reimagining the postpandemic workforce,” McKinsey & Company, July 2020

Ready, set, go: Reinventing the organization for speed in the post-COVID-19 era,” McKinsey & Company, June 2020

How to make smart decisions quickly in uncertain times,” blog entry, McKinsey & Company, June 2020

Reimagining the office and work life after COVID-19,” McKinsey & Company, June 2020

Reimagining the post-pandemic organization,” McKinsey Quarterly, May 2020

To emerge stronger from the COVID-19 crisis, companies should start reskilling their workforces now,” McKinsey & Company, May 2020

4 steps to quickly create a network of teams,” blog entry, McKinsey & Company, April 2020

To weather a crisis, build a network of teams,” McKinsey & Company, April 2020

Decision making in uncertain times,” McKinsey & Company, March 2020

Leadership in a crisis: Responding to the coronavirus outbreak and future challenges,” McKinsey & Company, March 2020

Busting a management myth: empowering employees doesn't mean leaving them alone,” blog entry, McKinsey & Company, February 2020

What it really means to lead more effectively through empowerment,” blog entry, McKinsey & Company, February 2020

Improve your leadership team's effectiveness through key behaviors,” blog entry, McKinsey & Company, January 2020

The helix organization,” McKinsey Quarterly, October 2019

Bias busters: Getting both sides of the story,” McKinsey Quarterly, September 2019

Want a better decision? Plan a better meeting,” McKinsey Quarterly, May 2019

Good decisions don’t have to be slow ones,” McKinsey Quarterly, May 2019

Three keys to faster, better decisions,” McKinsey Quarterly, May 2019

How companies can help midlevel managers navigate agile transformations,” McKinsey & Company, April 2019

Bias busters: Resisting the allure of ‘glamour’ projects,” McKinsey Quarterly, February 2019

Leading agile transformation: The new capabilities leaders need to build 21st-century organizations,” McKinsey & Company, October 2018

Houston Astros: winning the World Series with advanced analytics,” blog entry, McKinsey & Company, September 2018

The agile manager,” McKinsey Quarterly, July 2018

Decision-making: How leaders can get out of the way,” blog entry, McKinsey & Company, June 2018

8 ways to build a future-proof organization,” blog entry, McKinsey & Company, June 2018

Decision-making: avoiding turf wars,” blog entry, McKinsey & Company, May 2018

Decision-making: how to get the big bets right,” blog entry, McKinsey & Company, May 2018

Keys to unlocking great decision-making,” blog entry, McKinsey & Company, April 2018

Paradigm shift for leaders,” blog entry, McKinsey & Company, February 2018

Culture can make or break agility,” blog entry, McKinsey & Company, February 2018

Scaling up organizational agility,” blog entry, McKinsey & Company, February 2018

Get agile faster through pilot programs,” blog entry, McKinsey & Company, February 2018

Building the critical foundation of an agile organization,” blog entry, McKinsey & Company, February 2018

Getting agile right in your organization,” blog entry, McKinsey & Company, February 2018

Organizing for the age of urgency,” McKinsey Quarterly, January 2018

The five trademarks of agile organizations,” McKinsey & Company, January 2018

Safe enough to try: An interview with Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh,” McKinsey Quarterly, October 2017

How to create an agile organization,” McKinsey & Company, October 2017

Untangling your organization's decision making,” McKinsey Quarterly, June 2017

Why agility is imperative for healthcare organizations,” McKinsey Quarterly, May 2017

Agility: It rhymes with stability,” McKinsey Quarterly, December 2015

Getting organizational redesign right,” McKinsey Quarterly, June 2015

The past and future of global organizations,” McKinsey Quarterly, September 2014

Tom Peters on leading the 21st-century organization,” McKinsey Quarterly, September 2014

The hidden value of organizational health—and how to capture it,” McKinsey Quarterly, April 2014

Making time management the organization’s priority,” McKinsey Quarterly, January 2013

Developing better change managers,” McKinsey Quarterly, April 2012

Getting more from your training programs,” McKinsey Quarterly, October 2010

Unlocking the potential of frontline managers,” McKinsey Quarterly, August 2009

The missing link: Connecting organizational and financial performance,” McKinsey & Company, 2007


Columbia University
PhD, social and organizational psychology
MPhil, organizational psychology

Southern Oregon University
MBA, management and finance

Southern Oregon University
BS, psychology